Open to my vulnerabilities
I am often guided to literature that is relevant to my needs and which will help me find some answers to how I’m feeling. This happened today.
My future daughter-in-law has a birthday later this month and I was thinking about what I could buy for her. I thought back to a discussion we had earlier in the year whilst on holiday together in which she discussed her emerging role at the school where she works. She had a real fire in her belly when she spoke about pastoral care (the work she is moving in to) and some of the books she was reading in preparation for that work. So, I decided to look for a couple of books that I thought might be useful for her to read. I wrote 'listening to young people' in the search bar and various books were listed. Scrolling down the list, I was drawn to a book called “Daring Greatly: How the courage to be vulnerable transforms the way we live, love, parent, and lead”; by Brené Brown. So much so, that not only did I buy it for my daughter-in-law but I also bought it for myself.
The beauty of commuting to work means I download audible books and listen to them while driving. And so, today, began the listening into the words written by Brené Brown, and I felt an immediate resonance with what I was hearing. As I listened, my thoughts went to situations in my life where I had opened myself up to my own vulnerabilities and to the feelings and emotions that were attached to those times. Brown implies that vulnerability stems from shame based emotions; I agree. As soon as I thought about my own experiences of vulnerability I recognised that they were dripping in shame. My mind immediately went to a time in my life where I was seeing a therapist, working my way through some childhood issues that were affecting me in my present moment. I felt drawn to writing poetry as a way of expressing my inner turmoil and really pored my innermost thoughts and feelings out onto the page. It became my release and was more than welcomed. There was a stage when I was at university studying for my counselling degree, that I had to do a presentation in front of our group called, “who am I?”. The remit was to do a 15 minute presentation that would identify who we are and what made us the people we are. That brief provoked feelings of shame and I knew the presentation would be difficult for me to deliver.
Thinking about what I was going to present was extremely difficult; what could I say that wouldn’t leave me feeling vulnerable and open to judgement. And then I realised there was nothing I could say that would save me from that. So, I decided to dive right in and present myself through the poetry I’d written. I bore my soul in front of my group and shed many tears as I did so. Fast track to a three-way attack from shame! Firstly, there was the huge shame of crying; then came the shame of opening myself up to being weak (vulnerable) and finally the shame of sharing my creativity – what if people hated what I’d written? My body sagged under the weight of the shame I was carrying. I craved approval from my group but when comments were made about how brave I had been to share as I had done along with comments about liking my poetry, I couldn’t allow those words to penetrate the armour I’d protected myself with and bring me the acceptance I felt I needed. I kept the weight of the shame as this felt more familiar, like a well-worn jumper.
The shame of crying has been something I’ve held on to for as long as I can remember. If I think about it, perhaps the root of the shame comes from childhood (no surprise there!) and times when my father would be violent towards me and my sister and we would hold each other’s hands and say, “Don’t cry in front of him”. We didn’t want to give him the pleasure of seeing how much he had hurt us but I wonder if in doing that we just consumed the hurt and that became our shame. Listening to Brown, it seems the way out of the shame is to find someone you can trust and give the feelings a voice and a name. In that way, the shame has no energy – nothing to attach to – and so it dissipates. Secretive shame becomes entrenched shame.
Then there is the shame attached to exposure; that feeling of laying yourself bare in front of others. Open to judgement, to criticism, to not being seen, to looking like a fool when trying so hard to look intelligent. Hoping I look like I know what I’m talking about, that I know what I’m doing when inside my shame based thoughts keep telling me I’m going to be found out, that I’m rubbish, that I’m no-one. At times over compensating this shame by being outspoken and, I might say, brash; but a recent experience has made me wonder if I do this because of my fear (shame) of being overlooked.
And then the shame of sharing my “creativity”. As I said earlier, I wrote poetry as a way of working my way through my therapy and, again as I said earlier, my soul was poured onto the page. However, I also wrote poetry just because I could. I was quite pleased with what I was writing at the time and decided I would try and get a poem published. Why not…they can only say no. Well, that might have worked had I truly believed that. I carefully chose a few poems that I thought were worthy of being put into print and sent them off to a publisher of a local collaborative poetry book. First attempt was rejected, then the second and third. Came close on the fourth attempt – one of my poems was taken to the panel for discussion but made it no further – and then I gave up. My shame based thoughts kicked right in with, “Well what did you expect, you think you’re a poet, but you’ve been fooling yourself all this time. You’re true to form, rubbish and incapable of achieving anything!”
The fear of exposure, which I guess ties in with my fear of sharing my “creativity” (see, I can’t even type it without putting the word in quotation marks) surfaces on a regular basis but I do try to challenge it. So, for example, recently I was asked to do a podcast on resilience and although I initially wondered why I, of all people, had been asked to do it, I agreed. I met with the guy and he set the recorder and we set about talking through what resilience means and how it can be relatable in everyday life. At the time of the recording, I felt quite good. However, that night, as I lay trying to fall asleep, my shame based voice started going into overdrive; “Eeee, I can’t believe what you said on that recording, people will really get to realise how stupid you are now. What were you thinking agreeing to do that, you were way above your station there!” And so, the worry set in and I waited and waited for his feedback. A couple of weeks later it came and I was gutted, to the point that I sat and cried. He emailed me and said that, out of all the recordings he had done, mine was the only one that didn’t work. He’d managed to salvage about 20 seconds of the recording and the rest was corrupted. I expected to feel relief; now no one would find out how stupid I was. But instead I felt an overwhelming disappointment; what if I had actually come across as being ok on the recording? I, and no one else, would ever know that now. Along with the disappointment came the shame of wanting to be heard (ego?) and the tears at not being heard.
As I am continuing to listen to the words of Brené Brown I am getting moments of clarity and reasons to self-explore the thoughts and emotions that arise. She has said, “Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen”. And I guess I challenge myself to do this on occasion; submitting my poetry for publication, doing the Podcast, writing a blog. But where I fail (oops, shame based yet again) is that I put too much emphasis on the outcome. Carl Rogers, in his person centred model of counselling, talks about an external locus of evaluation whereby people listen to the views and opinions of others and base their self-worth on their reactions. I am ashamed to say, this is me. I am, a lot of the time, defined by what others say about me. I value myself upon the achievements I make (how do I know I’ve achieved something? Because someone tells me I have!) My goal is to value my internal locus of evaluation whereby I can realise that I am enough and that’s ok. Where I don’t need others to tell me this, because I have an internal sense of who I am.