Speak Your Shame

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Ancestry and Shame: The acts of your family are not your acts

What do you do if you uncover unsavoury facts about your ancestral history? How would you feel if you discovered members of your family were slave owners? Or what if you found out your grandfather was a Nazi commander?

Recently the actor Ben Affleck willing participated in a show called Finding Your Roots, where producers trace your family lineage. During this process Affleck discovered that his family history is tied to slavery and he asked to have this information omitted from the show due to shame.

Jennifer Teege, biracial author of My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me, was adopted and discovered that her birth mother’s father was a Nazi commander. She discovered this fact by stumbling upon a book that her birth mother had written about him. She didn’t even know her mother had written a book about the subject and she later discovered her mother didn’t share the book or the details because of shame.

When we discover these things about our roots, we need to realise that the acts of others regardless of whether or not they’re family are not our acts. We can acknowledge this information but not own it and take it on as ours. It is important though to be aware of all of the feelings that arise when you make these discoveries; whether its anger, disappointment, shame, sadness etc. We must feel those feelings and acknowledge them so we can move on and leave the past in the past where it belongs.


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What is Imposter Syndrome?

I first heard about Imposter Syndrome when I attended a workshop, a life coach held, who spoke about his experience with a brutal boss who he later found out acted that way because she felt like a phony.

Recently I read an article about Kurt Cobain’s documentary: Montage of Heck and in the article it stated that shame was what made Kurt into who he was and that he suffered from Imposter Syndrome.

So what is this exactly?

“Impostor syndrome is a psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments. Despite external evidence of their competence, those with the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved. Proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be. Notably, impostor syndrome is particularly common among high-achieving women” Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Impostor_syndrome

It’s interesting that the definition above states that it’s particularly common in high achieving women. What is it about type A personality women that allows some of them to not really own their successes and accomplishments and to feel shame and like a fraud that they don’t belong in the board room, in the corner office, as a speaker at a high profile event etc. Could it be that right from the start we’re made to feel like we’re ‘less than’? That we don’t quite measure up to men. After all, in 2015 women still earn 70 cents on the dollar to what a man earns. That really our role is to reproduce and take care of our partners and pursuing a career is selfish. So when we do get the amazing career that we’ve worked so hard for, we feel a sense of shame that we don’t deserve it. That we faked our way to the top. This is a heavy, draining burden to live with. Even celebrity women suffer with this. Here are some quotes from some famous women who feel like phonies:

“The beauty of the impostor syndrome is you vacillate between extreme egomania and a complete feeling of: ‘I’m a fraud! Oh God, they’re on to me! I’m a fraud!’ So you just try to ride the egomania when it comes and enjoy it, and then slide through the idea of fraud.” – Tina Fey

“There are an awful lot of people out there who think I’m an expert.  How do these people believe all this about me?  I’m so much aware of all the things I don’t know.” Dr. Chan, Chief of the World Health Organization

“I still think people will find out that I’m really not very talented.  I’m really not very good.  It’s all been a big sham.” – Michelle Pfeifer

“Sometimes I wake up in the morning before going off to a shoot, and I think, I can’t do this.  I’m a fraud.” – Kate Winslett

“I have written eleven books, but each time I think, uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.’ “ – Maya Angelou

Kyle Eschenroeder, http://startupbros.com/21-ways-overcome-impostor-syndrome/

The reality is, this is a phenomenon that many people suffer with especially women. The main thing is you need to recognize and realise what that feeling of shame feels like for you. When does it surface? What does it feel like in your body? What was the circumstance or scenario that preceded this feeling? What type of people bring about this feeling in you? Once you start to recognize what this is and the signs of shame you can start to make change. You need to be able call a thing a thing in order to move past it. For those who suffer with this syndrome, know that ultimately you are not a fraud or a phony and you deserve every bit of the success that you have achieved. Also know that you are not alone in this.

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The Scarlet Letter

Scarlet Letter

The Scarlet Letter is a novel written in the 19th century by Nathaniel Hawthorne. The plot is about a woman who is found guilty of adultery as she has an affair and conceives a daughter. As part of her punishment she is required to wear a scarlet letter “A” on her dress to publically shame her (“A” for adulterer).

The term ‘Scarlet Letter’ has gone on to symbolize shame. Though this was a fictional story it still has relevance. Though back then people didn’t physically have to bear their shame on their clothing, they were publically shamed and ostracized from their communities when they did something that went against societies rules of conformity. Even today in other parts of the world, women are still publically stoned for committing adultery. Or there are ‘honour killings’, often done to daughters who have brought shame upon the family.

In present day North American society our equivalent to the Scarlet Letter is judgement. With ourselves, we don’t wear the Scarlet Letter on our clothes; however, we bear the Scarlet Letter in our thoughts. We imprint it and brand it in our minds that we can never let it go. We continually beat ourselves up, berate ourselves and judge ourselves for doing whatever we did to bring shame upon ourselves and others. And if we do speak our shame to others, depending on who we choose to share with, those people may not have our best interests at heart and choose to make us feel even worse. They will use that as an opportunity to judge you and put you down in order to make themselves feel better and to hate themselves a little less for the burden of their own Scarlet Letter. Because of course, according to those types of individuals whatever YOU did is somehow much worse.

Use the act of forgiveness to forgive yourself and others for any and all things that you need to move on from the past. Forgiveness will slowly erode the Scarlet Letter you have etched in your mind. Once you do that, the shame will slowly start to dissipate. Once the shame is gone, you can then continue on a path towards a more healthy loving relationship with yourself.

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Is Courage the Antidote to Shame?

On Friday, Bruce Jenner did an interview with Diane Sawyer. He spoke very courageously for the first time about his transition to becoming a woman. There had been speculation for quite some time prior; however, this was the first time he confirmed it publicly.

He didn’t speak about shame per say but he did say that he didn’t come out prior because he had been an Olympian and felt that he would let people down including his children. He spoke about how he tried to overcompensate for his masculinity as a way to hide is true female identification.

For someone who is a former Olympic athlete, a dedicated hero and a reality tv celebrity to come out and speak about his transition with such honesty and vulnerability takes courage.

Is courage the antidote for shame? It takes courage to speak up about the things we simply want to hide and hope will go away and are afraid to face.  In the interview, his demeanour evolved. In the beginning, he was apprehensive and hesitant; and by the end, it almost seemed like he was a completely different person. He seemed self assured, confident and more importantly happy. It’s as if by him revealing his true identity to the world had allowed his true self to emerge. He no longer had to hide. He’s very fortunate that he has such incredible support in his life from his friends and family and that is all anyone can really ask for. By him having the courage to speak about this, allowed his family the opportunity to show him just how much they really love him and want him to be happy; as acceptance is a barometer of love. His courage to share, allows him to experience the world in a completely different way.

In his words, that was his last interview as Bruce Jenner. Going forward, he will be embodying his true self. I hope the courage he demonstrated in coming out, gives other people who are struggling with similar issues, the permission to do the same.

Note: In the above blog, the pronoun he was used along with his current name because interview was done as Bruce and he has not yet requested to be referred to by a new name or different pronoun.

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Hunger and Shame

Recently Viola Davis spoke at an event while accepting an award for her work with an organization called Hunger Is. She spoke of having been one of the children in the United States who don’t know where their next meal is coming from; currently 17 million children suffer that plight.

She gave an incredibly vulnerable and courageous speech about the various things she did for food: stole, dumpster dived, used people etc. For an A-list celebrity to come out and speak of those things, I highly commend her. She risked ridicule, judgment and a lack of sensitivity but despite all of that she still spoke up. She specifically said in her speech that the word unspeakable should be removed from our vocabulary because everything should be speakable.

I myself have never gone hungry but I can imagine the immense shame and stigma that would come from that. Especially being that we live in a prosperous part of the world, we don’t expect to go hungry; after all its North America, not a developing nation. However, if we don’t speak of these things then we don’t alleviate the shame and we also don’t solve the problem. Viola stated that she got involved with Hunger Is a) to heal herself and b) because they use the word eradicate. She wanted to be a part of an organization that’s mandate was not just to reduce hunger but to eradicate it. Programs, services and organizations wouldn’t exist if people didn’t speak up about the issues they have that require the existence of those organizations in the first place.

I echo Viola’s sentiments – nothing should be unspeakable.

To watch her speech click link below:


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Is There Such a Thing as Healthy Shame?

In the book Shame and Grace by Lewis B. Smedes he states there is such thing as healthy shame. He refers to healthy shame as a voice from our true self. His book includes the following quote:

“The feeling of shame is a fact which absolutely distinguishes [us] from lower nature”.
– Vladimir Soloviev

I read that chapter and it really resonated. It makes sense that when feeling shame it’s a signal that something is off. For example, I recall feeling shame when someone introduced themselves to me at a networking event with their job title. And that job title was quite an impressive one. She then followed with the dreaded question (dreaded to those who hate their jobs of course) ‘what do you do?’. I felt shame stating my job title which was a much lower level than hers. That could be viewed as healthy shame meaning that I wasn’t in the right role for me and I wasn’t living up to my potential.

He goes on to say that shame is a painful signal that we are not living the life we were meant to live and it’s a first step towards healing. That is if we recognize the feeling of shame. Shame is one of those ambiguous emotions. It can feel like sadness, embarrassment, depression etc. Once we recognize shame for what it is, we can use it as fuel to motivate us to become the best version of ourselves. But we need not be afraid of it, we need to approach it with an inquisitive mind and inquire what it is there to teach you. When we do that, we will discover parts of ourselves that were well hidden yet worth knowing. That discovery will serve you well on your journey to your higher self.

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The Social Media Mask

Is social media yet another mask we hide behind to protect ourselves from vulnerability? I recently saw this Youtube video called ‘Live Life the Real Way’. It begins by saying “I have 422 friends yet I am lonely”.

Click here to watch https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zA5SK0usRZE&feature=youtu.be

How many people on social media feel the same way? How many people are hiding behind a screen? Showcasing only the best of their lives yet hiding the worst? How many of us are comparing the worst of our lives to the best of their ‘friends’ lives. For example “Wow look at those pics Bob just posted! He just got back from Jamaica – lucky guy! And I just got laid off…. urgh life isn’t fair”. What isn’t fair is us comparing the challenging aspects of our lives to the joyous aspects of our ‘friends’ lives’. Bob could have just gotten laid off too. But just as you aren’t posting that on social media, neither is he. It looks better to show pics of his Caribbean vacation than to be honest about his reality. Who knows, maybe Bob is deeply in debt and this trip was yet another purchase added to a maxed out credit card. Who knows? That’s the point…we don’t know. When we don’t know we can’t assume nor can we compare. Everyone on social media is wearing a mask and showing you only what they want you to see.

Social media protects us from being vulnerable because we can control what we want to showcase; however, you can’t protect yourself from pain without protecting yourself against joy as well.