The need for self reflection and self evaluation is a constant, necessary hard work if we want to be the best we can be at our game, whether at business, or at home. I am constantly evaluating myself. Figuring out where I am, where I need to be, what’s been getting me “stuck” where I am and keeping me from being the very best version of myself for myself and for others in my life. Offering myself the best me is a gift to myself. Offering the very best me to others in my life is a gift to them. I am always learning. I never stop learning. One of the ways I keep learning is by reading books that motivate me and inspire me to change. For the past two years I have read a hundred or more books each year. Each book I read adds to the depth of my knowledge and inspires me to be a better person. Every now and then one stands out in a significant way. Dr. Brene Brown’s book, “I Thought It Was Just Me, (But It Isn’t) was an extremely significant read for me this year.
Brené Brown, Ph.D., LMSW has spent the past decade studying vulnerability, courage, worthiness and shame. Brené’s 2010 TEDx Houston talk, The Power of Vulnerability is one of the most watched talks on TED.com, with over 8.5 million views. Since then she has appeared on Today, Katie and Oprah Winfrey’s Super Soul Sunday.
Brown speaks about the topic of Shame and its power over our lives in this easy to read, very relatable book. Dr. Brown writes, “We need our lives back. It’s time to reclaim the gifts of imperfection-the courage to be real, the compassion we need to love ourselves and others, and the connection that gives true purpose and meaning to life. These are the gifts that bring love, laughter, gratitude, empathy and joy into our lives.”
Shame keeps us from being the best at our game. We all struggle with it. I am guessing that in both our personal and professional lives, the people we interact with on a day to day basis need the gift real “us” to show up. We are all different for a reason. My story–It’s what I bring to the table. My story can be a gateway into someone else’s story, bringing empathy to someone else, causing that person to “Up” their game while I do the same. Brene Brown says, “Empathy is the strongest weapon against shame.” When we share our stories, when we can sit with others and just listen with hearts of empathy, shame is dissipated and friendship can happen.
I spoke with Judge Scott Schofield, who has a unique perspective on the issue of shame as he deals with people who have made poor choices because of their unresolved personal issues of shame, causing them to act out in negative ways. He has the words “Be kind to those you meet today, everyone is fighting some quiet battle” into his bench, as a reminder that each individual he sees is indeed fighting some quiet battle inside that probably lead them to the space in front of him.
After sixteen years of being a judge, Scofield has seen patterns emerge in the men and women who stand before him. Many offenders have been victims of abuse of some sort, and instead of dealing with the shame and hurt of that abuse, they turn to drug and alcohol addiction as a method to deal with their personal shame stories. He then sees victims of abuse abusing others because of their shame and addiction.The cycle repeats endlessly unless someone has the courage to face their shame and deal with it in appropriate ways.
Judge Schofield says, “When we make a bad choice, we should be ashamed. Shame can be a motivator. Guilt can prod us to change. I try not to judge people, I try to judge their actions. I name their bad conduct, I try to call out their potential for good. I punish them appropriately for what they’ve done, but call out the best in them.”
Schofield says, “Very often my unexpected empathic response to drug offenders bring tears.” When I asked him how he could be empathetic with people who have obviously done really evil things, he responded “I very rarely see an outright evil person. I see bad behavior, but I also see the good in everyone standing in front of me, and try to get them to see it too.” Even with his empathetic response to criminal offenders, he says,“I am not lenient with them. Even when I send someone to prison for a long time, I tell them, it’s important to use that time to improve your life. I want you to be all you were created to be.”
None of us wants to end up in front of a judges bench, but what if we could be judges to each other…in the empathetic way Judge Schofield tries to be? What if instead of being harshly critical and judgmental of one another, we tried to see the good in each other and call it out, focusing on the good we see instead of the negative? I think all of us would live at a whole new level of freedom from shame if that could happen.
No matter how close or far away we are from achieving our own personal “winning game”, we could all use a little assistance to get us there. Kathy Guy, Licensed Mental Health Counselor and Addictions Counselor helps people achieve their winning game every day. I spoke with her about the topic of shame and it’s role in keeping people from offering the gift of their best selves to themselves and others. She says:
Shame keeps people from their potential wholeness because it handicaps them. Shame limits freedom to be or to become who an individual wants to be. They believe they are bad or shameful. It gives a picture, an image, to the emotion-the faulty self-image of shame.
Shame is trapping, limits freedom, and makes us believe that choices don’t exist. Shame often begins in a system of abuse. The abuse may begin in childhood or adulthood. When a person experiences abuse in childhood, they often feel shameful; it creates an identity, and they believe, “I’m bad, I’m not good enough, It’s all my fault” and other thought distortions. These feelings of shame make them more susceptible to entering abusive relationships in adulthood. Although they had no choice in childhood, they have choices in adulthood, but they aren’t able to recognize them. In this way, they feel trapped forever.
It also makes them more susceptible to other bad choices in adulthood. “If I’m bad, there’s no reason to be good.” Shame becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy that leads people to do things that reinforce their shameful beliefs.
Although the prison of shame is miserable, it’s also provides comfort because it’s familiar, and it’s all they’ve ever known. It feels very scary, very dangerous, for people to step out of their shameful beliefs.
Shame is about being hidden, kept in the dark, remaining unknown. Being known is scary because it means being seen, coming into the light. Being revealed feels very dangerous for people. Although they feel bad about themselves, they are afraid that if they reveal themselves, it will be confirmed by others. Rejecting themselves, loathing themselves feels terrible, but the fear of having it validated from others, the pain of that rejection and loathing is feared as pain that they could not withstand.
The liberation from shame comes when they discover, “I have revealed the worst things about myself to another person, and they have not shrunk back in horror.” Liberation, freedom, comes when they reveal the worst things about themselves and discover that they are loved anyway, when they discover, “I’m ok.”
What if we did that for one another–listened to the “worst of the worst”, looked at each other and said, “Hey, you’re ok.” or even better, “Me too.” Find a friend. Be honest. Take a risk and swap a story or two that you normally wouldn’t. Give an empathetic response to a story you normally would not, like Judge Schofield does with criminal offenders. Dare to go first and see what happens.
Your story is what makes you YOU. Your authentic self at the table is a game changer for you and everyone around you. You and your story are a gift to the rest of the world.
Put shame in it’s place and live free. And go get Brene Brown’s book! You’ll be glad you did.
Judge Scott Schofield’s website: Accepting Responsibility
Kathy Guy’s website: Tell Me What To Say
This article appears in the July 2013 edition of SASSY magazine