What’s your dirty little secret?

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Secrets, secrets we all have ’em.

You know that part of every conversation, that part beyond the friendly chit-chat but right before the deep dive of genuine soul talk, where the conversation turns to… gossip.

Yes, we’ve all been there. In fact, we all WANT to be there.

Why?

Because secrets are interesting. Secrets are scandalous and as much as we pretend that we don’t care or we don’t want to know. We all do.

But here’s the catch-22 with secrets: We all have dirty little secrets, but we don’t want anyone to know our secrets.

What’s the big deal about having a dirty little secret, anyway? I mean, we all have ’em.

Secrets are basically your crime(s) made public. That dirty little truth you know about yourself and do not want anyone else to know. In fact, you’ll go to great lengths to protect yourself and your secrets, to make sure you are “safe.”

Our secrets are associated with shame.

So what is shame? And why do we try to hide from it?

According to researcher Brené Brown, shame is:

I define shame as the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection.

I don’t believe shame is helpful or productive. In fact, I think shame is much more likely to be the source of destructive, hurtful behavior than the solution or cure. I think the fear of disconnection can make us dangerous.

Shame is a focus on self, while guilt is a focus on behavior.

Guilt says, “I’m sorry. I did something bad. I made a mistake.”

While shame says, “I am sorry. I am bad. I am a mistake.”

Shame is internal, while guilt is external.

Shame has two mantras. The first is, “Who do you think you are?” and the second is, “You’re not good enough.”

Shame is what paralyzes us into thinking that we are unworthy of love and belonging, it is what stops you before you even start because shame says, “NO, YOU ARE NOT WORTHY.”

Shame needs three things to survive: secrecy, silence, and judgment.

Secrecy, silence, and judgment are shame’s recipe because it exacerbates and empowers dis-connection with others by reinforcing the belief that you are alone, that no one else has been there or understands what you’re going through.

Shame says, “I can’t let anyone see (secrecy), I can’t let anyone know (judgment), and I can’t talk about it (silence).”

It divides us from others.

As Brené Brown says, “The less you talk about it, the more you got it.”

Shame is also highly correlated with addiction, depression, violence, aggression, bullying, suicide AND eating disorders. All mechanisms to numb, withdraw and isolate ourselves from others. While guilt is inversely correlated with those things.

So, what is the “cure” for shame?

Empathy.

Shame cannot survive being spoken, it cannot survive empathy.

Why?

Empathy is about connection, it is about feeling WITH people, not feeling bad for people (sympathy).

Empathy is making a choice to be vulnerable. To connect with somebody, you need to connect to a similar emotion within yourself, the “I know the feeling” feeling – it is choosing to stand with not above them.

The four principles of empathy are:

  1. Perspective taking. Being able to see the world as others see it, or recognize their perspective as their truth.
  2. Staying out of judgment. Being non-judgmental.
  3. Understanding another person’s feelings and recognizing that emotion in others.
  4. Being able to communicate your understanding of that person’s feelings.

Empathy is the antidote of shame because empathy comes from a place of courage, compassion, and connection. It comes from a place of acknowledgment, “You are not alone; I’ve been there, too.”

It is the sacred space of vulnerability and sharing that helps people climb out of the hole of shame. Empathy comes from a place of #MeToo. In fact, sharing your story actually stops a shame spiral head on. 

So, remember, you are not alone. No matter what’s happened, or what you have done, YOU ARE WORTHY OF LOVE AND BELONGING.

And we, as people and as a community, can create sacred spaces of healing by choosing to connect WITH people by being non-judgmental, vulnerable, and most importantly, empathetic.

After all, I got secrets and you got ’em too. I am human and so are you.

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