For many years I have experienced moments of deep emotional pain. I believe these spells began in childhood, and still occasionally happen. It starts with some sort of upsetting circumstance, usually around relationships, or my physical health. Dark feelings descend from above, pressing my head down, bending my back, pushing me to the floor. My mouth opens to scream, but no sound comes out. Tears fight their way free from tightly-closed eyelids. My chest feels too small and my heart feels too big. My lungs burn and my ribs are a vise.
There is no running narrative in my mind, no flashback of abuse. I simply silently break under the wrongness of myself.
I didn’t have a word to describe these viscerally painful moments until 2 years ago. That’s when I read Daring Greatly, and my world unfolded. Here’s what I learned-
Shame. My cheek on bathroom tile, my silent scream, my urge to rip the organ containing my worthless soul. Shame.
Everything changed when I learned about shame. It’s not that I stopped experiencing intense emotional pain, it’s that I could name what was happening. I could tell my doctor and therapist. I could scour the web and books for insight, statistics, and tactics for coping. I became empowered in my pain. Enlightened. Able.
The first step toward healing is to see and know what we’re dealing with. Taking the nebulous and pinning it down like an insect on a board. Flipping pages to deconstruct the qualities. Gaining insight of origin, and making plans for recovery.
It’s no secret that shame is hard to experience. It is also hard to read about. Just the word can cause recoiling and judgement. Shame makes people uncomfortable. That’s why we keep it a secret. Unfortunately, shame grows in locked spaces, and gains more power over our lives. This stuff is dangerous and requires proper handling- the application of light, empathy, self-compassion, and shared humanity.
Not every shame storm drives me to my knees, and people experiences shame in different ways. But I know this- shame feels painful. It feels lonely. It feels hopeless.
Figuring out how we feel shame in our bodies is one of our first steps toward resilience. Shame isn’t a fun thing to write about, and I know it’s hard to read about. I do this because it matters, it gives hope, and it can save lives, like mine.
Further Reading and Resources-
Shame Resilience- Where To Begin
If you don’t have time for the entire 2012 TED TALK “Listing To Shame” video, fast forward to the 9:30 mark to hear Brené talk about shame.
Brené on Super Soul Sunday with Oprah- “Shame is lethal.”