We live in a vulnerable world with lots of uncertainty, discomfort and pain.  This same world also includes lots of joy, love and happiness.  All of us experience some of both, but most of us think something is wrong with us when we can’t avoid or control the “hard” stuff in life.

We all seek connection with others.  For connection to happen, though, we need to have the courage to be vulnerable and share who we are.  According to the researcher, Brene Brown, most of us struggle with being vulnerable.  We fear vulnerability shows weakness.  We fear if we really show who we are, people will turn away from wanting to connect with us.  Yet, ironically, most people see others who share their vulnerability as courageous. It is difficult for us to feel we are worthy and deserve love and belonging.  The shame of feeling “I’m not ok” or “I am not good enough” is a loud voice in most of our heads.  This painful message inhibits our freedom to share who we are.  Instead we find ourselves seeking perfection, numbing our senses, blaming others, trying to predict and make life certain rather than embracing how vulnerable and afraid of failing we often feel.  We may eat too much, drink too much, self-medicate, work too many hours, or stay extremely busy as possible ways to avoid feeling vulnerable.  Yet this fear of feeling shame and not measuring up also means we block our connection to joy, creativity, love, fun and play.

We all suffer from shame.  We are not alone.  We fear letting down to tell our story of feelings and thoughts; the highs and the lows, the struggles and the triumphs.  However, Brene Brown reminds us that being secretive, and silent and judgmental about our inner challenges helps maintain the shame.  We cut ourselves off from connection with others.  The fear of risking exposure is playing it safe so we avoid mistakes or looking bad. In addition, Brown says her research shows, “vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.”  So our fear of showing our imperfections and humanness comes at a huge cost to us and our society.  Fortunately Brown offers a three-step process to practice developing shame resilience.  This process encourages us to move toward feeling greater worthiness in simply being who we are.  Now it really help if we know what triggers our shame.  It helps to recognize the feeling of not being loveable and worthy and when we are in it.  Some common shame triggers are, not doing it perfectly, feeling incompetent, not being productive enough, smart enough, strong enough, pretty enough, important enough.....The first step when we are experiencing one of our shame triggers is to reach out to a friend instead of hiding.  This is a practice of courage in showing vulnerability.  You might call a friend and say, “I just gave a talk at work and it didn’t go well and I feel disconnected from my co-workers, inadequate and want to hide.”  Having someone to listen and empathize is the antidote to shame.  Secondly, do a reality check with the messages you are hearing in your head and from others.  What are the expectations and beliefs sparking the shame?  Be kind to yourself and compassionate in your self-talk.  “You’re ok, you are human, not all your presentations have to be excellent” or “my co-workers respect me and probably think the talk was fine.”  (Once again, hear the importance of self-compassion for us to find more freedom from our judging critics?)  Lastly, by reaching out to tell your story and sharing how we feel embarrassed or guilty or ashamed helps us realize we are not alone.  Often we hear, “Oh, I have felt that way.”  It makes it easier to accept our story in that moment and find some freedom away from the self-judgement.