Last week I was sitting around the table with my family, and somehow, we got on the subject of embarrassing stories – things we’d done or said that we’re still so ashamed of. We laughed at each other’s humiliation, poked fun, and then someone would say, “ok no, I’ve got one…” Some of the stories we shared had never been said out loud. I owned SUPER embarrassing moments, things that have haunted me for years, that I have shoved into the back of my memory closet and swore would never see the light of day. Eyes got wide, jaws dropped, people covered their faces, and then we all laughed until it hurt. One of my favorite authors, Dr. Brene Brown, talks about the power of wrapping shame in words. Shame is something that haunts us in the dark – it tells us we’re terrible people and should never let anyone see the truth of who we are or what we’ve done. But, when we wrap our truth in words, when we bring it into the light, when we say the things we’ve said and done out loud to other people – BOOM, shame loses all of its power; it withers in the light, and you’re just left with this story, this small, dusty thing that isn’t the Goliath you thought it was. Shame is ultimately our fear of disconnection – as humans we’re wired to want connection with other people. We all want and need to be liked and loved. When we’ve done or said something that threatens to, or in fact disconnects us from others, we experience shame. The interesting thing is, these experiences tend to be kept secret – we withdraw from the people they happened with, and we tell very few people (if anyone) that they happened. As such, shame continues to fester in its dark hiding space, and tell us how terrible we are. As Brene says, ‘shame is a social wound, that requires a social balm.’ As I shared my stories, I watched everyone erupt into laughter, but they weren’t laughing AT me. They were laughing at the awkwardness and discomfort of my stories that is SO relatable, and then they tried to one-up me. It was one of the most therapeutic experiences I’ve ever had. No one told me I was a terrible person, no one got up from the table in outrage, they all empathized, commiserated, poked fun, and then it was over. We all have things we’re ashamed of, it’s part of the human experience. But if you have the courage and the right audience, giving it words, and bringing it to light might be the most liberating thing you’ve ever done. The antidote for shame, is empathy. Maybe no one has done or said the exact things we have – but we’ve all been there in one way or another.
We’ve all done things that make us never want to speak or leave our house again. And in the instant of wrapping those experiences in words, in sharing the story, in being seen and empathized with, the power that those experiences had over us dissipates. That night, sharing our stories was a two-way gift. We each received the gift of release, and we each gave the gift of permission to share.
We saw each other as flawed humans all trying to pretend we weren’t by keeping these stories in the dark. But in sharing them we became more human, more real, more lovable, more understanding, and more trusted. In today’s culture of social media, the perception of perfection is rampant, and toxic. No one is perfect, no one is without flaws or missteps.
Despite how well curated our feed is, we’re all real people who require real connection. The best ways to connect with others is not through fake perfection, but through real humanity. I encourage you to give yourself permission to be real, to be human, to share your truth, to share your story, and to witness others’. It doesn’t have to be so serious either. Laugh at my pain and I’ll laugh at yours. Because damn, this life thing is hard, and sometimes falling down is hilarious.
Wishing you a beautiful day, and a wonderful week.
With love and gratitude,