Now that I am writing children's books about shame, I am reading a lot of Brené Brown. I probably should have started reading her before I started writing, but how often do we do what we should? Have you read Brené Brown yet? If not, you absolutely must.
The books have been so illuminating and affirming, it’s incredible. Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead (Gotham, 2012) was my first. I’m now slowly making my way through the rest of her works. Brené’s life work is shame research, and she writes amazing, accessible books about what her research has taught her.
One thing she teaches is how knowing your physical shame reaction will help you recognize your shame triggers, and vice versa. My physical shame reaction is a vise. It starts in my stomach and feels tight and uncomfortable. As my Shamer begins the instant replay of the mistake I made or the onslaught of “You will never be (fill in the blank)” accusations, I feel it squeezing tighter and tighter.
From there, it moves to my lungs, each breath getting more difficult. By the end, I feel like my entire inside could fit inside a Rubix Cube. Everything is tight, compressed, compacted and numb.
I write all this because last night, my shame reactions were on full alert. Everything was squeezing and tightening, and my Shamer was having a field day. When I first feel that vise start to tighten, my instinct is still to agree and appease. I hear the messages, I start to agree with them, and then I come up with all the ways I can “fix” myself.
When I say “fix,” I don’t mean stopping and saying, “This is my Shame. These statements are not true.” I mean: “Here is a list of ways I can be a better mom; here is a list of ways I can be a better wife; here is a list of ways to make better dinners, have a cleaner house, volunteer more, play with my kids more …” and on and on. I’m not against self-improvement and being the best I can be, but these lists aren’t fixing anything. After "solving" myself, I fall into a fitful sleep. By morning though, I’ve forgotten all my life-changing revelations on how to be the perfect me. Then I fall back into the cycle.
Now, thanks to all my self-awareness and therapeutic work (and reading Brené Brown), I’m trying a different tactic. Now, when I feel that vise start to tighten, I first take a breath and say, “Oh, I’m feeling really shamed right now.”
Then I try and sort out the shaming messages: “I hear myself saying I’m a bad mom who doesn't spend enough time with her kids. Why am I feeling like this? Oh, it’s because I took time to write today at the coffee shop instead of cleaning, cooking, hanging with the kids or puppies, etc.”
Then I confront my shame message: “I know you feel taking time to write is selfish and not as important as those other tasks, but I have value and worth, too. There is value in me taking time for myself, and I’m actually a better mom because of it.”
I repeat that healing message over and over until I can feel the vise loosening.
It’s not a perfect system, and sometimes the shame message still wins. That’s when talking to my husband or going to a therapy session really helps. It’s nice to have someone confirm that the shame message is a lie and that the healing message is the truth.
It’s a constant battle, and I have to be aware, because shame messages are sneaky. But the more I practice, the easier it gets. It’s a constant self-check, but it’s worth the vigilance. I don’t want to be numb and trapped in my vise any longer, so I will continue to try and loosen its hold on me.