More on shame and vulnerability and authenticity



I am reading the book by Brene Brown:  “The Gifts of Imperfection:  Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are” and wanted to share some of her amazing insights about shame and vulnerability.

Maybe it will resonate with some of you.

Or maybe you’ll feel uncomfortable with the word shame and want to turn away. Maybe you will think it doesn’t apply to you.

Brene talks about being authentic in a culture that wants us to “fit in” and “people-please”.  She ponders the anatomy of authenticity and what are the parts that come together to create an authentic self?  This is what she writes:

Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we’re supposed to be and embracing who we are.

Choosing authenticity means

–cultivating the courage to be imperfect, to set boundaries, and to allow ourselves to be vulnerable;

–exercising the compassion that comes from knowing that we are all made of strength and struggle; and

–nurturing the connection and sense of belonging that can only happen when we believe we are enough.

Authenticity demands Wholehearted living and loving–even when it’s hard, even when we’re wrestling with the shame and fear of not being good enough, and especially when the joy is so intense we’re afraid to let ourselves feel it.

Mindfully practicing authenticity during our most soul-searching struggles is how we invite grace, joy, and gratitude into our lives.

It’s interesting–I have had a gut-level aversion to some of Brene’s teachings and did not want to read her books until yesterday. She is one of the leading researchers on the topics of shame and vulnerability in the world.  The word “shame” didn’t resonate and I felt an aversion to a spiritual teaching which urged vulnerability and seemed to increase egoistic attachment..  (Ha ha–whenever one feels an aversion, isn’t there usually something that aversion is mirroring?)

If you had asked me last week:  Do you feel much shame?  I would have shrugged, maybe shook my head, discounted it.  Maybe some episodes of shame, but nothing chronic.  (Except maybe a vague shame connected with even the word “shame”.)

After beginning to read the book it was like a light illuminated in consciousness.  Shame came into focus very clearly.  It felt like something woke up and could suddenly see shame clearly.  Brene might say shame is culturally taboo.  The ego will do everything to push away feelings of shame.  It doesn’t want to see shame, to feel it, to acknowledge its existence.  It would prefer positivity.

Yet without clearly seeing and allowing the existence of shame, it goes underground.  It’s often repressed.  It isn’t fully allowed in this moment as a guest.

When it’s allowed–Oh, hello, shame, here you are again, come and sit awhile, I see you, you can exist, oh you dear sweetheart, don’t cry, OK, yes,  you feel like you messed up, we’ll walk through this together–then something deep inside releases and allows more access to present moment awareness.

Shame can be very subtle.  It doesn’t have to be a big full-blown sweating “Oh, I’m so ashamed!”  It can be a tiny wave of discomfort, barely acknowledged.  It can be a whisper of fear.

I am amazed, yet again, at the mechanics of ego’s repression.  How we don’t see until we see.  How we don’t wake up to a fragment of ourselves until we do.

We may wonder why we can’t stay awake in the present moment.  Why we keep re-identifying with the personality, with the ego.  It seems like it’s so easy for unconscious energy to subvert our intentions.

I am welcoming shame into this life in a conscious way.  Come and show what you’ve been trying to teach.  I will try not to push you away any more, even in subtle degrees.

Shame, what kind of tea would you like?

P.S.  If you read yesterday’s blog post you will see a distinction between the words “shame” and “regret”.  The two words can seem to point to the same concept.  They describe what we feel when we sense we have “missed the mark” in our thoughts, attitudes or actions.  However, they seem very different to me.  Regret is an honest appraisal of seeing how we perhaps acted from less-than-stellar intentions, unconscious reactions, frustrated emotions.  Shame exists when we feel ourselves “bad”.  Instead of seeing our actions as imperfect, we feel ourselves as unworthy.  It is no minor distinction.

One can empower and encourage consciousness; the other often debilitates and leaves us spinning in circles of confusion and despair unless we can fully allow it to appear without repression or acting out.  One gestures towards healthy accountability; the other toward more unconscious reactivity.


12 thoughts on “More on shame and vulnerability and authenticity

  1. My shame doesn’t deserve tea nor even dirty puddle water. It states that thirst is what it deserves. I know you said more than this but I have to think on it.

    • It can be a daunting task, indeed, Elisa. I see you wrote something about shame, too. Haven’t had time to read it–heading out the door–but should by tomorrow. Fascinating subject–but brings up a lot of feelings.

  2. Kathy, Kathy, Kathy…

    You make some good points here. To quote Travis Bickle, “You talkin to me?”

    I had just read and commented on the earlier post this morning. Now you trying to tell me of course I experienced and am experiencing Shame according to Brene, sorry I don’t agree. I understand the desire and the practice to be authentic in all areas of our life… That desire and practice leaves “shame” out in the cold.
    Sure I felt not good enough, I felt unloved and unwanted, not out of shame, or that I was bad. It is just what I felt. I didn’t know how to be authentic. I didn’t know how to love myself. Until I broke through the walls, until I uncovered and or discovered who I was… I wasn’t bad, I just didn’t know, I wasn’t broken, I was just incomplete…

    • Oh I am sorry, Jeff. I did see your comment at 6:30 this morning but didn’t have time to read it slowly and digest it before work. Of course you may not be experiencing shame according to Brene. It would be interesting to learn what your definition of shame might be. (That not feeling good enough feeling is part of what I am calling shame. Would have to go back and re-read the book to get a better handle on what Brene calls shame.) I would have thought that shame was not part of MY immediate experience until reading her book. That’s what I was trying to articulate–maybe not so well. This feels life-changing to me. It feels like the incompleteness is somehow being filled. Sorry if you thought I was trying to box you somehow into owning shame, or whatever.

  3. I’ve just finished reading both yesterday’s and today’s posts, Kathy. Thank you for sharing about guilt, regret, shame — getting your perspective, and Ms. Brown’s. I’ve found these emotions to be of great value in analyzing my self and my behaviors over the years. For me, there is authentic guilt and shame — that leads to regret and contriteness, and questioning causes, etc. Some who’ve written about it all call it “earned” and “unearned” guilt, shame …

    Looking at the feelings teaches me discernment. What’s true and what’s not true about how I’m judging myself? There is nothing softer and sweeter than what comes of honest assessment — the knowing when I’ve erred, and the deep regret and urge to treat others more kindly, or to view them from a different place. And, there is nothing more freeing than letting go of the nonsense, the untrue stuff, too — finding the ability to sift and ponder and get to the bottom of things.

    This is exciting stuff! And I, too, think it is life-changing. Thank you again, my friend, for these precious gifts.

    • Good morning, Susan. Thank you for reading. It’s interesting, Brene uses the word “guilt” and I used the term “regret”. I actually have no idea the minute differences between the words guilt, shame and regret and not-enoughness. They all feel really similar as a sensation arising.

      Yes, it’s cool how feelings can teach us about discernment and letting go, isn’t it? I was awake in the middle of the night thinking about how I’m trying to express something (or encompass something) here with these little essays but feel like I’m not quite expressing what I want.

      Thanks for adding your two cents!

  4. Shame and guilt feel like partners to me. They always seem to go around together hand in hand.

    Thank you for this, Kathy. I agree with Susan and think this is exciting stuff.

    • Robin, I was just telling Susan (commenter up above) that I really don’t know the difference between shame, guilt, regret and not-enoughness. They all feel like a conglomerate of the same sensation rising as an ache inside and often accompanied by a huge inner story.

      Am trying to articulate something and struggling with it a little. May write another blog here and try to say it better–or may not. A cup of coffee may decide. Ha ha, have a good day!

  5. Your last replies have me wanting to pat you on the head about being enough to express what you want…and then, I am thinking about art and how I commented somewhere about painting hair. There are all sorts of physical tools and then all sorts of paints and washes and glazes available for that, and the surface used that will also influence how a thing looks ‘done’ to the artist and then perhaps how the artist hopes to get it so ‘right’ or close that those that view the work can use the same eyes, or as close as possible the same mind. Maybe one aspect of enoughness is access, knowledge, and understanding of tools. Maybe some shame occurs because we(i) don’t see the difference.

    • That is very insightful, Elisa! Perhaps some shame arises because an artist or person can’t always fully articulate the *whole of their understanding*, or sight, or view, or creation in one moment. That it simply is enough to express the fragment which is arising in the moment. I was thinking about this earlier this morning, actually. Thank you!

  6. Very deep thoughts, Miss Kathy. Just my type of post. 🙂 Shame, whew, that is a strong word. What I can tell you about shame is a story that a recovering alcoholic in my life told me. They said that, yes, they felt guilt, but that’s not what helped them to reach their bottom. It was the pit of shame. Once in that pit, they finally reached their hand up for help to climb out. Shame was their answer to recovery. Just one more perspective on the idea.

    • This is so interesting, Lori. Shame is a very powerful emotion. I am really amazed about what happened with me this week. It’s like I opened a repressed pocket of shame that wasn’t even conscious and awareness purified it or something. And the next several days have been really interesting because it feels like emotions or thoughts aren’t “sticking” as much as they usually do. Hard to describe. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this.

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