All of us have several stories and narratives that define us and control our lives in seemingly unconscious ways. The recent campaign #MeToo asks victims of sexual abuse to speak up, to not hide and show courage in accepting that in a public space. The campaign intends to let everyone know that sexual abuse is more common than we think and that we are not alone in suffering from it.
Why is it so hard to share our stories of pain and trauma that are so much a part of us? We tend to believe that we are alone in our suffering, that everyone else is okay and happy, and that we are the only ones struggling. So we hide, and pretend to do the ‘right’ things and say the ‘right’ things so that we can feel like we are part of the group that has got it all together.
But at what cost? The cost is the shame that comes with being unaware of our own stories. This continuously isolates us in a room full of people. It disconnects us from our bodies, and we are constantly on guard that others may find out what imposters we are. We constantly fear being judged and as a result we are precariously balancing on the edge of depression as a race.
Brené Brown, a researcher in the field of shame and wholehearted living speaks about the conditions that allow shame to fester — silence, judgement and isolation. Every time we speak up about our fears and trauma we show something that Brown calls ‘ordinary courage’. This is not the kind of courage we see in the movies, where the hero rescues, fights or sacrifices – it is the far more common and accessible kind, the act of speaking up and expressing ourselves, just as we are.
The dangers of refusing to be aware of our shame come in the form of the ways we often protect ourselves from it:
1. Moving towards others by trying to appease and please them
2. Moving away from others by withdrawing, becoming silent or hiding, and
3. Moving against others by trying to gain power over them, by putting them down, by shaming them and being aggressive.
How do you protect yourself – do you move away, towards or against?
Chris Germer, a psychologist at Harvard explains how self-compassion is the anti-dote to shame. He says that courage to break the silence around shame comes from self-compassion. Shame is an innocent emotion, he says, because it fundamentally comes from the fear of being unloved. Most of us believe that there is a fundamental flaw in us that makes us unlovable. Imagine if we spend all our lives constantly engaged in trying to hide our shame so that no one finds out.
Owning your story is as much about telling your story as it is about whom you choose to tell your story to. We all need that person who listens to us, who stops us from being too hard on ourselves and who also has the courage to share their stories in return – reminding us that we are have more in common with the human race when we suffer than when we prosper.
When we ask ourselves the question: “Who has earned the right to hear my story?” which names come to mind? We really don’t need many people to listen to and understand our stories but we do need at least one person.
What do I want others not to find out about me?
What am I afraid of? Can I name it to myself and try to figure out where I feel it in my body?
And finally, can I say to myself something I would to say to a dear friend or child who is suffering?
Be open to giving yourself that love and compassion that you need in that moment.
So take a step: find your person, speak up and own your story.