A little earlier than suggeested, but here is a sneak preview of what will be included in the 2nd chapter of Connected Living. This was a bit of a struggle, and quite challenging. So feedback will be much appreciated. Personal messages are helpful. If you do like it please feel free to share with others.
Our shame diminishes us, it stops us being vulnerable and therefore connected with those around us. Shame can quickly turn into blame, and jealousy, it encourages us to search for what disconnects us rather than what connects us.
When I think about what I am ashamed of, I realise that I have heard a lot of the descriptions I use from other people. We share a lot of our shame with the people around us. How ridiculous is that? So we all share common themes in the very thing that causes us not share and drives disconnection!
Now not all of our shame is shared by everyone, however the broad themes of our shame are. To illustrate this I will list a few things that create feelings of shame in me;
- Not being handy; I am completely inept at all things DIY, every time a craftsman, my brother-in-law, or my brother does some work around my house I feel that I am somehow less of a man. (I know it makes no sense and what I can and cannot do does not define me, but that is my initial feeling).
- Having poor mental health; when my mental health is poor and my mood is low, I instantly go to a place of shame. I want to hide it away, I am afraid that I appear weak and flawed. Now this is an initial response, and I am able to overcome this shame, however every time I feel low I go straight to feeling ashamed and wanting to hide away.
- Being overweight; I am not comfortable with how I look, it makes me feel like I am somehow a failure. I can hear you all shouting “go on a diet then!” You are right, I could do something about it. I have made attempts in the past with varying degrees of success. This then drives that shame of being weak-willed and a complete failure. Oh god I can feel my jaw getting tight with shame just writing about it.
Some of you will recognise those feelings of shame that I have described. There are a lot more where they came from, but lets not over share.
You will notice that our society and culture drive the three triggers of shame I have described. If you are going to be a successful man in our society you have to be able to build and maintain your home, keep your shit together and be pleasant on the eye, amongst many other things, which I probably do not possess.
Our shame and vulnerability is shaped by our map of the world (our paradigm). It is probably best to describe paradigms before we start to talk about how to tackle our shame and lean into our vulnerability.
Stephen Covey describes paradigms as our maps of the world. What is important to remember though is that a map is an interpretation of the territory before us and not the actual territory. It is important to make this distinction, as we will all have different interpretations of our territory even though we may share that territory with others. Our experiences and how we interact with our territory will determine how we draw/paint our map. The stories we are told will all add to the detail of our maps. The stories we hear come from a variety of sources, not just our families, but from our local community, news media, social media, and fictional media. This therefore creates a rich and detailed map that does share some similarities with those people we share a culture with. Below is a picture that is used frequently to describe paradigms and perception. Some of you will recognise it, and be able to see both the old lady and the young lady. Some of you will only be able to see one or the other.
Once you see either the old lady or the young lady for the first time, your paradigm has shifted and more detail is added to the map of your world. You will forever be able to see both. As we interact more with our surroundings the more detail we add to our map. These interactions, create more data, which is then incorporated into our ever-expanding map, however how we view this data is dependant on our previous experience with similar data. The problem is those previous experiences may not be our own, and may come from stories, many of which might not be completely factual. Can you see why parts of our map of the world might not be completely useful to us, and in fact can be destructive. It is important to challenge our paradigms if we want to start to step out of this shame that our paradigms can generate.
So how do our paradigms shape our shame? It is probably best if we dissect some of the shame I experience and discover where it comes from. Let’s look at the shame driven by my body image. This is based on a few different paradigms. Firstly I see that our culture values men that are slim, muscular and athletic, and I am none of them, however if I ate correctly and exercised regularly I would have a body like this. Our society values people who eat healthily and exercise well, therefore I see people that live up to this ideal as successful. I do not live up to this ideal therefore I am not successful. Occasionally I will make half-hearted attempts to live up to this ideal and then give up, therefore I am a failure and therefore I am less valuable as a person, and that is where my shame comes from. If we don’t live up to our paradigms we can feel less valuable as a member of our community and this makes us feel ashamed. There is no reason why I don’t live a healthy lifestyle other than I choose not to, and if I don’t challenge my paradigm I feel really ashamed of this.
Up until a few years ago I was a smoker, this was a source of great shame. Everyone knows smoking is unacceptable (another paradigm), therefore every time I lit up a cigarette I would feel ashamed, every time I tried and failed to give up I would feel more ashamed. To all of you out there that smoke, you know it is bad for you, you know all of the reasons why you should give up, however the reasons you continue to smoke are just as valid. By all means feel guilty for smelling like an ashtray, and making others cough. But you smoking does not diminish you as a person, I would still like you if you are funny and caring, you being a smoker does not change that, so don’t be ashamed, feel guilty but not ashamed. Guilt does not diminish you as a person, it accepts that you are as complex and flawed as the next person, and that we make mistakes and make poor decisions.
So how do we keep our shame in check? I don’t believe we can ever defeat our shame but we can keep it in check. The first thing to do, is to think more critically about why we feel ashamed. What is our view of the world based on? Is it based on fact, or from stories we have been told? If it is based on stories, how accurate are those stories? Our paradigms come from our memory banks, and the problem with our memory banks are that they are generally a mix of fact and fiction. Therefore how reliable are our paradigms. If our paradigms struggle to stand up to critical review, why do we put so much store in them, and why should they drive so much shame? Just asking yourself why you think that way, can start to diminish your shame.
Let’s put this to the test with my body image shame. My shame is partly driven by my inability to stick to a diet and healthy lifestyle. When I think about it, the paradigm I am stuck in, is that I should find living a healthy lifestyle easy and therefore my inability to do this means I am somehow less of a person.
Now how does this stand up to scrutiny?
What evidence do I have that supports this paradigm?
Pictures of smiling toned healthy people on social media telling me how much they enjoy drinking kale and beetroot smoothies, and doing the plank.
How reliable is this source? Have I ever seen someone drinking a kale and beetroot smoothie or doing the plank in the flesh?
No I haven’t.
Have I ever drunk a kale and beetroot smoothie, if so what did it taste like?
Yes I have and it was the most disgusting thing ever.
Have you ever done the plank, and if so did you feel like smiling when you were doing it?
Yes I have, and no, I tried not to be sick if I am honest.
Just writing this has reduced my shame.
When you start picking apart your shame and what drives it, you start to treat yourself with empathy, you start to understand your own emotional response to your shame, this allows you to show yourself some compassion. Brene Brown in her books Daring Greatly, and Dare to Lead suggests that empathy is the antidote to shame. Empathy and compassion shine a light on that shame.
We are more accustomed to hearing about empathy and compassion in the context of showing them to others. This comes next as being empathic with others really does put that shame in a box. Brene also points out, that to truly be able to show empathy to others you have to be comfortable showing yourself empathy.Once you have started to diminish your shame you are able to successfully articulate your emotions when feeling that shame. When a friend is experiencing shame you are then able to draw on your own experience of shame, and can share those emotions with them. When we start sharing what shames us we start to recognise that many of the paradigms that drive our shame are shared by the people around us. When we notice that we share those emotions, it diminishes that shame further.
By being present and responding to what is really happening rather than anticipating what might happen based on what we believe has happened in the past or what we believe people will think of us and sharing those feelings we can keep our shame in check. I don’t think it is possible to banish our shame completely but we can prevent it from ruling our lives.
We can often confuse guilt with shame. Now guilt is an emotion we feel after we have behaved badly or done something wrong. Guilt is nothing like shame. When you behave badly and feel subsequently feel guilty you are acknowledging that you have behaved in a way that you do not find acceptable, and that you are sorry that you behaved that way. Guilt provides the opportunity to make amends, to show accountability. By expressing guilt you are saying that you are not less of a person because of your behaviour, and you want to make it better. Shame says that as a result of your behaviour you see yourself as a bad person. For example if I feel guilty that I have not been able to stick to a diet, I am saying that I am not happy that I have not been able to stick to it, but I am not a failure, I do however need to find a diet and adjust my attitude to having a healthy lifestyle. My shame however says that I am a failure and I deserve to be fat and unhealthy, and I will always be fat and unhealthy, because I am useless. I much prefer to feel guilt. Guilt demonstrates dissatisfaction with the current status quo without diminishes my sense of self-worth.
If we want to tackle our shame, and start making meaningful changes to our lives we have to challenge our paradigms, start practicing empathy and sharing what drives our shame with the people we care about. It is possible to manage our shame, we just have to start being kinder to ourselves and each other.