My Shame, Your Shame

Love — both the capacity to love and the belief you are deeply lovable — and Belonging are irreducible needs of humans.   If you don’t have those, you break.

People who believe they are worthy of love and belonging handle shame better.
Brené Brown

There is no doubt that I have the capacity to love, and I have done the work to understand my underlying belonging.   A Course In Miracles (ACIM) uses the words love and fear to work with these concepts, teaching that separation is illusory, that we belong to the universe and to humanity all the time.

The key block to getting the belonging we need is the attempt to fit in by assessing and acclimating.

When we try to fit in, try to get approval and fail, we feel shame, but when we try to be ourselves and belong we just feel disappointment and sadness.   Approval is not just a poor substitute for belonging, it is often a barrier to finding belonging.

Our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self acceptance and the barriers we bring to love are the barriers we bring to loving ourselves.
Brené Brown

I learned early never to put my ego on the line by trying to fit in.  I have been comfortable enough with my idiosyncratic nature to not put my shame on the line by trying to be one of the crowd.   I don’t find my failure to fit in to any group shameful.

Instead, I assume that I won’t fit in.  I assume that any approval is temporary and conditional, because it is.  I have learned to be conflict averse, gracious and appropriate, not to gain approval but to avoid too much disapproval.

Authenticity Mantra:  Don’t shrink. Don’t puff up. Just stand your sacred ground.
Vulnerability Mantra: Just show up and let yourself be seen.  Be real.
Brené Brown

I do both of these things well.

I stay small not to avoid shame, but to avoid disappointment and sadness.  I know that I can be of use if I commit to to doing for others,  know that trying to fit in is pointless, know that my belonging is greater than any individual human can touch because my mother in the sky defines my belonging.

What I also know is not to expect empathy, understanding or compassion.  I expect that there will be blocks to the sense of other people that I belong and they believe in those blocks because they know that I don’t fit in.

This makes me believe that love is not mine to have. It’s not because I am not lovable, rather it is because I don’t fit in, so other people’s shame and ego will be challenged by my presence.

Putting your identity on fitting in is a bad thing, as Ms. Brown says.   It leads you to make inauthentic choices and feel shame when you tried to fit in — tried to pass — and failed.  This is the centre of those “imposter” feelings that haunt so many of us, those feelings that we are irredeemably failed people, not worthy of what we have.

Holding your identity on not fitting in, though, also has its challenges.  It leaves you alone in a basement, leaves you making safe and very constrained choices, leaves you avoiding being too pushy.  When you assume that you won’t fit in, can’t fit in, then you stay at a distance.

If you don’t ask, you won’t get.  I don’t ask.  I just assume other people won’t get it.

I know how to open my heart, how to be vulnerable and to work the process.

The barriers I hold to love coming are around my being “too hip for the room,” around the sense that somehow, I will never fit in.  While I believe that I am lovable, I just don’t believe people will love old porcupine me, don’t believe they have done the work to meet me in empathy.

Compassion is knowing your darkness well enough that you can sit in the dark with others.  Compassion is not a relationship between the wounded and the healed, it is a relationship between equals.
Pema Chödrön

Ms. Brown believes that compassion is spiritual commitment to empathy, but uses the quote to remind us that turning on the lights, correcting, is not essentially empathetic.

I know my own darkness well enough to sit in the dark with almost anyone.

I just assume that others haven’t done the work to know their own darkness and sit with me.   I assume that if their darkness is too much for them then my darkness is way too fucking much for them.     The boundaries of their own comfort are the boundaries of their safety for me, the boundaries of where they will feel challenged enough that their shame will be stirred up and they will freeze, run or act out.

I assume I will have to modulate myself to them to avoid stirring up their own feelings, their own shame.   I assume that I have to delicately negotiate their minefield, leaving me conflict averse in the way my family taught me.  I figure that I am “in your face” enough by my very being, by my very bringing of light, that pushing it just will freeze me out even more.

We live in a shame based culture, Ms. Brown tells us, where identifying what we should fear and who is to blame is common currency.  We consume shame based entertainment where someone has to be humiliated so someone else can win.  We value young people who act out more than mature people who come with grace.   Our politics and news are laced with shame, laced with fear and blaming.   We find it easy to write people off as unworthy, teaching young people that unless they are famous they are not enough.

I know this.  Other people’s shame based behaviours are my minefield, because other people’s shame based behaviours are the source of all stigma that is dumped on other people.    This is especially true around gender roles.  It is even true inside the gender communities, where we try and shame those who make choices that we find shameful in ourselves, unleashing our internalized shame policeman on the world.

Standing my sacred ground, as Ms. Brown suggests, is standing against shame.  Not my shame, mind you, but the shame encoded in others, the shame whose name most of them even refuse to speak.  I live in their scarcity culture, just like I lived in my mother’s, and it is all so terribly, terribly wearing,  so wearing I sometimes think it isn’t worth the effort anymore.

I find that a hard, hard fight.