My therapist recently asked me about vulnerability and shame; what it means to me now and the relationship I want to have with it in the future. It felt really relevant because I had just read two books by Brene Brown, the shame and vulnerability researcher. I have the same relationship with talking about my emotions as I do with experiencing them, so I wrote this:
She was a freshman in her first semester of college. She was giving a speech in Speech class, and everyone was staring intently as she provided information about herself and her journey. It was vulnerable to stand up in front of the freshmen class and talk about what she was passionate about. She probably felt even more vulnerable when she sat down and her neighbor told her that her fly was open and her ladybug underwear had been showing throughout the five minutes of that passionate speech. It was probably also vulnerable for him to tell her that he saw her underwear.
When I was in high school I decided I would bench 135 pounds during Cross-country practice. My coach ran over to me as I dropped the weight and then struggled under that same weight and put it back up on the rack with no help.
Somehow physical vulnerability and the potential for danger is much more exciting and exhilarating than the potential emotional vulnerability that results in embarrassment and shame.
It’s one thing to drop 135 pounds on myself and have to admit that I can’t put it back up although I struggled to make sure I did just so I didn’t have to accept help (I guess that’s an element to vulnerability I don’t tolerate). It’s another thing to struggle under the weight of what I have done in my life and accept help because that means someone sees me for who I am: filthy, fearful, and a failure.
One part about vulnerability that I don’t like is the part where I feel shame when I tell people about myself…
When I talk about what I used to do for work I feel shame because I don’t work anymore and probably couldn’t do it full time even if I tried. The details that surround that are overwhelming for me to handle. I lost sanity, wheels fell off the wagon, and I tried to kill myself. I’m still floundering even now. I tell people I’m on disability and tell them I have Lupus so I don’t have to admit that I don’t work because I am depressed and struggle with and for my life.
When I talk about my childhood I feel shame because I know I couldn’t stand up for myself. I lost confidence if I ever had it. I let someone convince me that it was okay to take my clothes off and hide in the woods day after day. I let other people control me by their words. I would do anything to keep people from talking about me.
When I talk about my Master’s degree and my aspirations I feel shame for not “being there.” I don’t go to my reunions because I am ashamed of who I am and who I haven’t become.
When I think about the things that happened in graduate school and the sexual assault that eventually led to a compromise of my standards, values, and beliefs I feel intense shame.
When I think about my brother, Matt, I feel shame because I wasn’t vulnerable with him when I needed someone most. I know now he would’ve accepted me and would have helped change my perspective before it took over my life. I couldn’t admit that this terrible thing happened in my life. Now it’s too late, and he is gone.
Shame is this overwhelming belief that I am a terrible person. I have done terrible things, and that makes me terrible. It isn’t just a thought that I have though. I live in a constant state of judging myself and shaming myself. I speak hateful things to myself all day. I tell myself that I am not worth time, effort, care, and love. I haven’t earned the right to like myself let alone be known by someone else for the potential to be liked, or loved. I believe that others will think I am terrible if they know me.
Shame is this overwhelming feeling: Shaky, hot and cold, sick, lightheaded
Brene Brown says that the antidote to shame is empathy. The only way to experience empathy from others is to be vulnerable. When my friend gave her speech she didn’t know just how vulnerable she was, but others probably experienced embarrassment for and with her. She used to tell that story all the time and laugh hysterically. She was comfortable in her own skin and shared herself with others even when to do so meant exposure of her weaknesses. When I think about her I think about a true badass.
I want to be comfortable in my own skin, confident in who or what I am. I don’t want to think about what others think of me but rather like myself despite myself. I want to share myself with others in a way that makes others want to share with me. I want intimacy without fear and pain without taking it personal. I want to be a badass, but a badass has to feel when they are vulnerable. No hiding and no numbing.
When I played soccer I would run for 90 minutes in front of a crowd of people watching every header, scissor kick, or slide as well as every mistake. I was exposed to all of those people every game, and some of them were watching me with critical eyes, but I never took my eye off the game and never stopped enjoying what I was doing.