If you were serving a life sentence in jail, what would a pardon feel like?
Right now, you may be in prison and not even know it. Many of us have spent so much time living in shame—a penitentiary of our own construction—that we don’t realize the freedom we are missing.
When we are living in shame, our inner world is a dungeon with walls of guilt, fear, insecurity, and pride. You have felt the pain and loneliness of those confines, even if you don’t admit it to anyone. Even if you never recognized those feelings as shame before.
If you’re like most of us, you are falsely imprisoned by captors such as: insurmountable guilt, needless fears, debilitating insecurities, unrealistic expectations, inaccurate perceptions, and faulty comparisons. I should know. I was in that prison for much of my life.
The Prison of Shame
Early on, the voices whispered to me: Great book report, Steve. (It should have been perfect.) Good hit! (That was luck.) Are you enjoying the party? (The popular kids think you’re a nerd.)
Later, the voices grew stronger: You’re not good enough. She won’t go out with you. They’re just saying that to be nice. You don’t deserve it. That looks like fun, but you’re not any good at it.
And my worst nemesis: That was stupid!
Until the shouting became too much to bear: I should stop drinking. (You can’t, because you’re an alcoholic!) How will our family get through this? (You’ve screwed up everything! There’s no way out!) God, are you there? (Who are you kidding? God doesn’t love you!) And on, and on, and on.
Guilt is “I made a mistake.” Shame is “I am a mistake.” (Dr. Brene Brown)
Humiliation. Disgrace. Inadequacy. Shame is that painful emotion caused by the belief that you are inferior to others, unworthy of respect, and not deserving of forgiveness or affection.
And it affects us all.
Shame says: “You’re not good enough. Smart enough. Good looking enough. Rich enough. Your Dad didn’t pay enough attention to you. You don’t have any friends. You’ll never succeed.”
Shame is the intensely painful feeling that we are unworthy of love and belonging. (Dr. Brene Brown)
It’s not just you; we all hear voices of shame. But, you don’t have to stay in that prison forever.
The Freedom of Vulnerability
If you’re a guy, you may have gone your whole life trying desperately not to show weakness. That’s what men are supposed to do, right?
If you’re a woman, you may have always competed desperately with the unobtainable illusion that you have to do it all, perfectly, while keeping up appearances at the same time.
Those faulty mindsets lead us to living in shame. They are prisons.
But, you have access to the keys to get out: openness and vulnerability. If you become open with God, and vulnerable with other people, you can escape the prison of shame.
Becoming vulnerable with others means being courageous enough to let at least a few people see the real you. Including the important stuff, like your fears and insecurities.
Vulnerability is the cornerstone of confidence. (TED Talk by Brene Brown)
Vulnerability is not weakness. In fact, studies show it is an accurate measurement of courage.
And, it is also an effective way to deal with shame. Sharing how you feel with others takes a tremendous weight off your shoulders. By getting things out in the open, you give other people the opportunity to express empathy and help carry those burdens with you.
If we share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can’t survive. (TED Talk by Brene Brown)
Becoming open with God and vulnerable with others is the pathway to freedom. As it turns out, you can unlock the doors of your prison all by yourself.
I spent years living in shame I didn’t recognize or understand. When it became too much to bear, I cried out to God for help. As I kept taking STEPS forward, I also learned the freedom one finds by becoming vulnerable with other people.
You too may be living in a prison of shame. But, now, you have the keys to get out.
Question: Do you recognize any of those aspects of living in shame?
Action: Pick someone you can be transparent with and take a step toward vulnerability.