We Cannot Shame Ourselves Into Growth
I hate New Year’s resolutions.
I hate them because I so rarely keep up with them.
I hate them because some people do keep up with them, and then I feel inadequate.
I often catch myself falling into old, maladjusted behaviors that keep me from growing. I can slip into gossiping, judging, and thinking I know what’s best for someone else. I can vow to eat healthy and work out, and find myself in a McDonald’s parking lot the next day, wondering why I’m such a failure when it comes to my goals.
If someone were to come to me with this same problem, I would smile empathically and encourage them to cultivate self compassion. If we can find a balance between accountability and self compassion, I’d tell them, we have found the sweet spot. We can use our gentle nonjudgment to help propel us into growth.
But why can’t I always do that for myself?
While these behaviors can be classified as character defects, as outlined in the 12 Steps, they are by no means unnatural or abnormal.
Just because I am in my 7th year of sobriety, does not make me immune to my humanity.
Just because I am a therapist and help people to find their truths and their underlying core issues, does not mean I am immune from falling prey to my own core issues.
What I can do, however, is cultivate the power of mindfulness.
Mindfulness is simply the nonjudgmental awareness of what is going on inside me. The key word here is nonjudgmental!
I can so easily start shaming myself for being human: for being judgmental, gossipy, full of fear, resentment, or pain. I can shame myself for not being perfect. I can shame myself for not being as successful as someone else, as physically fit, as charismatic, as intelligent.
I can also shame myself for feeling shame.
The kicker, though, is that I cannot shame myself into growth.
If I am working on being less judgmental, and I start judging the shit out of somebody, shaming myself is not going to make it better. Telling myself that I’m a hypocrite and shouldn’t ever lecture on nonjudgment is not going to make me less judgmental.
Contrastingly, cultivating a level of self-compassion and nonjudgment internally is what is going to help me most in this process of emotional and spiritual growth.
I utilize authenticity and vulnerability in almost every lecture I give or meeting I speak at. I try to go out of my way to acknowledge my flaws: my humanness, in order to connect to my audience in a way that is so often overlooked.
People don’t connect with my façade of perfection.
People don’t connect with my external accolades like educational degrees.
People connect with my painful honesty when it comes to being imperfect.
People connect with my own shame narratives, the ones that live deep inside me, trying to hard in the dark while I do everything I can to shine light on them.
People connect with the fear that I’m not good enough, and never will be.
People connect with my shaky hands as I type on this keyboard and wonder if anyone is going to relate to this, read it, or acknowledge that I’m here and I have something to say.
So why would I shame myself for any of those thoughts, those feelings, those beliefs?
What does shaming do for me?
Shaming myself helps me to validate a core belief that I am unworthy. We can fill in the blanks for whatever it is we feel unworthy of: love, success, validation, contentment, inner peace, joy.
When I shame myself for my imperfections, I am inadvertently chipping away at my self worth. I am telling myself that it is not okay to be imperfect. I am telling myself that I shouldn’t be experiencing this, and that I should be in a different place.
But that’s all a load of horseshit.
I am here now.
I am perfectly imperfect and I am human.
And it is by being human that I can connect with each of you.
Also, at the top is a picture of me and my dog with matching onesies.
Happy New Year!