I’ve had shame for as long as I can remember. Shame for the way I looked. Shame for the way I behaved. Shame for not being talented, smart, funny or nice enough. Shame for pretty much everything. The thing is, when you’re in the middle of a shame spiral, it can be pretty lonely. Part of what your shame is telling you is that you are the only one who feels this way. You are the only one who is not enough. You are the only one who is not together.
I’m pretty good at midnight self-analysis and epiphanies where I can see all my flaws and logically think of healthy solutions to all of them. Somehow, though, when my alarm goes off at 6:30 the next morning, all these breakthroughs and brilliant strategies are forgotten. My cycle starts fresh, and nothing really changes.
I started consistent therapy in 2016. I’d tried therapy a few other times in my life, but that’s another story for another time. Therapy was great, but my therapist kept telling me how she would love to have me in her “Shame Group.” How that would make such a difference in my healing.
I’m not going to lie: I kept telling her I was open to joining a group, but inside, I was terrified at the thought. Who would be in this group? There’s no way they could feel as bad as I do, right? Or what if I’m not sick enough or troubled enough, and everyone just thinks I’m a wuss for not being able to suck it up? I was comforted when, after she would suggest the group, she would always follow it up by saying, “There are no openings now, but maybe next cycle.”
Then, one fateful day in December, it happened. The previous group’s cycle was ending, and there would be a spot open in January if I wanted it. Before I could chicken out, I said yes. I knew if I didn’t commit there, on the spot, I’d talk myself out of it.
On the first night, there were four of us (on a full night, there were six). I looked around the circle and was terrified. These women were so put together, so cool, so beautiful. I did not belong here for sure. Plus, they had all been in the previous cycle, so they also all knew each other. Talk about intimidating.
Here was the brilliant thing that happened at group, though. As each of these beautiful, cool, interesting, intelligent women began to talk, they would tell stories or explain feelings that were almost identical to mine. We were not alike on the outside, but on the inside? In our heads? We were. We all had the same “Shame Talk” and a lot of the same “Shame Messages.” Honestly, they probably thought I was insane for a while, because as they were describing something very personal and emotional, I would be grinning like a fool because I was thinking, "Me, too!"
Shockingly (not shockingly; that’s my sarcasm coming out), my therapist was right. Doing work with these women gave me the courage to face and talk about some of my most shaming moments. I’m not sure if I had even fully talked some of them out one-on-one with my therapist, but with my group I felt braver and stronger.
Hearing them say, “Me, too; I have these same messages” was so amazing. I can’t really put it into words. Imagine showing someone that part of you that, in the middle of the night, your shame is telling you will keep you isolated and alone forever. That no one will understand and everyone will judge you. You show that part to a group of people, and they not only don’t judge you, they relate to you. They share similar experiences or thoughts or fears. It was a game-changer for me.
Now, I’m not saying you should gather a group of strangers and start airing your most personal fears or anxieties. But if you can start to cultivate a group of trusted friends or family, you can create a safe place together. A place where you’ll see you’re not alone in your shame, but part of a group. A strong and resilient group, all trying to break free of the lies that shame tells them and moving forward into the light of truth.