Have you ever entered a room full of strangers and been forced to play the dreaded “icebreaker” games?
There are few things I truly dislike in this world.
Wasps, disk-golf, scavenger hunts (the worst), and icebreakers. Like, no thank you, I’ll keep this social situation nice and frozen and impenetrable thanks. I think it’s partially because I expect full-grown adults to have some amount of social skills that they are able to break the ice without a game or a line. But maybe that’s just me.
There’s one “getting-to-know” question that inevitably pops up and in every awkward mix and mingle soiree. “What’s the most embarrassing thing you’ve ever done?”
Man, is that broad. And hesitating with an answer only leaves you looking like a cocky prideful sociopath who genuinely believes they have never done one thing that is embarrassing. Honestly, I’ve been asked this question enough that I now have two go-to stories in my back pocket. (Both involve me tripping and falling in front of large amounts of people… one with coffee, one down a staircase.) If you also want to avoid cocky sociopath status I highly recommending always having some self-depreciating stories on hand.
Anyways, why do I bring this up? Not only to give some important social advice and to vehemently discourage people from organizing adult scavenger hunts (No, I do not even care if it’s a bachelorette party). It’s because embarrassment and shame hang out in the same camp. But it’s important to differentiate them.
Embarrassment, or even guilt, may set you back a few notches of confidence, but shame leaves you crippled. Embarrassment is easily overcome; shame can have a hold on your entire life. Shame alters the way you interact and engage with everyone. It can form your beliefs about yourself, God, and others.
Shame can alter your identity.
Embarrassment sometimes comes from guilt. Guilt says you made a mistake, but overall its influence tends to be positive. If you really made a mistake, guilt says make it right. Shame doesn’t mess around with legitimate slip-ups, instead it goes straight for the jugular and says that you yourself are the mistake. To see it through a child’s eyes, (one of my favorite ways to look at life) embarrassment is like the substitute teacher you can mess with all day and not really get into any serious trouble. Embarrassment is temporary. Shame is the principal of the school. If you cut class on shame, you’re in some serious trouble and you know it.
So I kind of want to talk about shame, because like it or not it affects us all in subtle (and not so subtle) ways.
Shame usually attacks everyone’s most vulnerable place: his or her identity and position in life.
Now hold up.
Shame is such an intense word, Amy. We don’t live in a shaming society anymore, Amy. Everything is acceptable. Everyone’s accepted. Right? Shame just doesn’t feel like the right word. Until you really look at shame.
Let’s look to my shame-researching queen Brené Brown once more. According to Brown, “Shame is the most powerful, master emotion. It’s the fear that we’re not good enough.”
Not good enough. Just as you are. Shame says you are an incomplete picture. Shame says you have nothing to offer. Shame screams that nothing you have done, will do, or could even comprehend doing in your wildest dreams will lead you to the acceptance and love you crave.
Brown also points out that, “Shame erodes our courage and fuels disengagement”.
Yaaaaayyyyyy. So many good things!
Time to get really really really real. (Ew, vulnerability). From grade one I used to tell everyone I wanted to play college basketball. (Apparently one female college player came to my classroom and signed a poster for me, and that was all it took.) I played basketball every weekend, most week nights, and even on lunch breaks during high school. I wanted to play, it was a dream. I became “known” for that dream. It sort of infused itself into my identity at a young age.
Long story short, I did play at college. For a while. One year, actually.
Then I got cut from the team.
It’s funny because this all happened at least 5 years ago, yet I still had to talk myself into writing it down. Why? Because being cut from something I had placed my identity in for years was one of the most shaming experiences of my life. So shaming that for the first year after I stopped playing I just actively avoided any conversations or people associated with basketball.
It’s funny to me now, because I actually have a lot of other passions. The sport itself is a very small part of my life, and looking back I actually wouldn’t trade the entire experience for the world. But in that moment my entire identity, my entire position in the world was attacked by shame. Being cut told me I had wasted my time. It told me I was an idiot for even thinking I could succeed. It pointed to successful people around me and made me feel disconnected from them. Loosing my position on that team made me feel inadequate in almost every area of my life. It stuck fear of failure very deep down into my heart.
What else did Brené say, shame “fuels disengagement”. I am of the opinion that disengagement manifests in different ways depending on a lot of other things going on in your life. Disengagement can look like hiding. (Solo Netflix nights, ignored phone calls, declined social events, and WAY too much time spent with pets and wine). It can also look like disengaging from the real you, and engaging in an entirely fake persona. I realize that sounds intensely creepy… like multiple personalities creepy. What I mean is living your life on a constant “fake it till you make it” basis.
Personally, my shame and I like to dabble in a bit of both.
Here’s the worst thing. Shame can creep in from anywhere. It can be internal, meaning I can shame myself merely by thinking, believing, and internally speaking negative words over myself about myself. It can come from (however well-meaning) our families, our friends, and authority figures in our lives. If that isn’t fun enough, shame doesn’t even have to be verbally spoken. It latches on through situations: trauma, pain, rejection, abandonment. You name it, shame comes with it.
The most grisly and obnoxious aspect of shame is that it likes to hang out in its own fun little trio of messiness. I may just be making things up at this point, but aren’t triangles supposed to be the strongest shape in existence or something? Anyways, picture shame in a triangle and the other two points are fear and control.
Fear hangs out around you and encourages either hiding or the alternate “I’m fine” persona. Because fear says the absolute worst thing in the entire freaking universe would be people finding out about your shame.
(Okay I want to break this down a bit more here:*** Truly knowing someone else and being known includes knowing every “shameful” part. Often our most shaming experiences are met with understanding and compassion when they are shared. Being vulnerable opens up those shamed parts of our hearts, and allows us to feel loved. Therefore, our deepest fear that our shame would be exposed actually works to keep us from experiencing love. So annoying, right?)
Control, the final point of our triangle, attempts to attain or maintain our identity and place in life. Control can also manifest in either extraverted or introverted ways. Obviously, we can all picture an outwardly controlling person pretty quickly. (Helicopter parenting, anyone?) But there are more subtle forms. Think eating disorders, manipulative relationships, or lying to get ahead. People can even control through passivity, or acting nonchalant or disconnected about things that cut pretty deep.
So, to summarize: something happens that shames the deepest, most innate part of our identity. We immediately fear that those we love (and, irrationally, those we don’t even know) will discover this shame and reject us, shame us even more, or broadcast our shame. We control, whether outwardly or passively, so that our shame will never resurface. (Often our methods of fear or control are shaming in themselves, which compounds and adds new levels to this stupid ugly triangle).
Yep, the human race is an impressively evolved crew when it comes to pain.
Firstly I apologize for bombarding you with seemingly bleak thoughts. The reality is I share this because as I mentioned before, shame had a lot more of a hold on my life than I recognized for quite some time. Shame had me believing I was trapped in some pretty annoying boxes, and I would shake my head in disbelief if people told me that I didn’t have to live that way. Shame kept me from fully engaging in healthy relationships. Shame prevented me from taking risks. Shame heaped insecurities onto me. Seriously, shame is the worst.
I’m still wrestling with shame; it’s a daily thing. But the more I am able to recognize and reject it, the more I am able to live as the fullest version of myself. Shame is the last thing that I want influencing my life, my thoughts, or my future. So I guess I wrote this as an exposé of sorts. The more people that can recognize and call it for what it is, the less people getting stuck in shame’s dumb triangle.
I think a lot of us reject God because we think He is synonymous with religion, and after that we easily tune it all out. Because we associate religion with ‘confession’ of our deep dark shaming sins, don’t we? I did. But what if the reality is that God ultimately desires wholeness and freedom for us? What if shame has absolutely nothing ever to do with the character of God? Shame is the opposite of God, and is never indicative of Him. I never would have seen shame, or the ugliness it smeared all over my heart if not for a God that was good enough to reveal it to me. I can’t, in my own strength, reject the lies I am consistently tempted to believe about myself, my life, and my decisions. I can’t. He can.
I guess this post also came out of my social media wallflower ways. I noticed people keep posting perfectly edited selfies captioned, “living my best life,” and couldn’t help but think about the insecurities unseen by social media.
For me, my best life started internally, not externally. It started when God reached down in His goodness and showed me the state I was living in. This entire blog originated from a place of deep vulnerability, which is not something I could manufacture on my own. Vulnerability cannot exist where shame lives.
I highly recommend kicking shame out of your life. Let vulnerability take up more space, and see where it takes you.
Trust me when I tell you that it’s good.