When Shame Shows Up

Updated on March 17, 2022

If I feel in any way vulnerable, other people’s silence can feel like punishment. Yesterday, I had trouble breathing, concentrating, engaging in anything. This was my go-to response in childhood. The feelings of abandonment manifest as acute physical pain in my chest, and then I essentially go numb. 

Yesterday morning and afternoon I spent in this state. I distracted myself mostly by watching movies and napping. Nowadays, I have the ability to observe myself and can usually talk myself through it. I knew that I’d have to get myself together enough to socialize later in the day, so I pulled myself out of bed around 4 pm and took a shower.

While soaping up, I thought about BrenĂ© Brown’s research on wholeheartedness. I realized I was responding to feeling hurt by spiraling into shame. And shame is the one place where I always abandon myself. I lose my ability to speak, to show up, to open up, to be present. The shame tells me that I don’t deserve to be heard or seen. It tells me that other people’s needs are more important than mine. In particular, it flashes the neon message, “You are not worthy.” 

And I know I am worthy, so snapping out my perverse kind of self-imposed muteness was necessary. I decided to open up and extend myself in as many meaningful ways as I could. If my bids to connect weren’t met, so be it. I could still be generous. I could still act with love. 

It worked pretty well. My brain was racing most of the night, my chest was tight, and I felt like I was on the verge of tears (especially when I saw a litter of kittens), but I showed up everywhere I went. And I was met with kindness. I gave and received hugs. I laughed a little. I even helped my daughter’s boyfriend knock over a tray of food while we were both going in for a hug at a fancy restaurant.

I rang in the new year with people who deeply love me. It is seriously hard to be any more blessed than that. 

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