your teacher pulled you up in front of the class and told you you were stupid. That time you were told you were told off for attention seeking in front of everyone at the big family gathering. That time at music camp when you were used as an example of how not to play an instrument. That time your first boss yelled in your face. That time recently on Facebook when a whole bunch of strangers made you feel like the worst mum in the world. And that time you made a mistake, an honest mistake, and were made to feel as if there was something deeply wrong with you.
Do any of those stories ring a bell for you? Perhaps you have your own version? Can you recall it?
These are shame stories.
They somehow effect us deep down. They stay with us. They make us believe something about ourselves.
The feelings are real and they are traumatic.
Recently on Facebook Art Therapy Spot shared a photo they’d created, spotted via Happiness is Here‘s feed. I then shared it (see my facebook post here) describing a story that happened to me when I was a kid.
My story was about being made to stand up in a whole school assembly, shouted at for stealing a coin I didn’t steal. Almost immediately people began sharing their own shame stories. Because, holy macaroni friends, 87% is nearly all of us. So many of us are sitting on these shame stories. And so many of us are still, to this day, living a small part of ourselves under the shadow of that shame.
Jeez, I’m feeling a bit emotional. Can you tell?
I’ve been thinking about another shame story recently. Not one from childhood, but from my first proper job. When my boss, someone close to me, screamed in my face for being 15 minutes late to a 7:30 AM meeting. He called me a narcissist. I didn’t even know what it meant. I had to look it up. And to this day his words bring a deep blush to my face. I can feel my skin tightening even as I type. I double guess myself because of the one minute I spent in his office. He shamed me, made me believe something about myself. It was born of his own problems, his own childhood, his own shaming, but yet I carry it around with me.
Have you read any Brené Brown? She is doing important, important work around shame. The quote on the photo above comes from a podcast between her and Elizabeth Gilbert. (Also my favourite!) She says;
“Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change.”
The experience of shame goes deep, friends. Really deep. It can effect our self belief and our confidence forever. And it very much effects our creativity.
Our shame stories are dead ends. They are blockers. Plugs. They are tourniquets. They stop the flow of blood to areas that were previously pulsing with life.
On last night’s Facebook thread people said over and over: I’ve never drawn/ sewn/ spoken a different language since.
Our shame stories block us but you know what else they do? They can also block our empathy. Unless we heal those shame stories we are endanger of shaming others. Shame begets shame and we must, must, must end the cycle.
Shame has too much of a role in childhood. We use it as a way to correct a child’s behaviour, to make them learn a lesson from a mistake, we use it in public, on the internet to make people laugh or think we are hardcore parents, but we use it mindlessly too when we tut and shake our heads when we use our words and actions to make a child hang their head. We make them believe they are deep down disappointing.
I did a little video today about a big decision we had to make and how it made me think about how differently we treat our children’s mistakes to those that other adults make. If Tim makes an error of judgement I try and stand by him, offer him grace because for me our relationship is the most important thing. I feel like this should be the norm with the smaller people in our lives too.
On a recent reading of The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron I scribbled “I didn’t tell myself it didn’t hurt, but I did tell myself I would heal” in my journal. I can’t find it in the book now, but the message is in there. All of this shame is traumatic. It hurts. And alongside recognising this pain we can hold on to the hope that we will heal.
Brené Brown says: “As a shame researcher, I know that the very best thing to do in the midst of a shame attack is totally counterintuitive: Practice courage and reach out!” She also says “If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can’t survive.”
So here is what we are going to do. We are going to start the process of healing. Together.
We are going to do an empathy storm on Facebook. Click here to get to the Empathy Storm post on my Facebook page and share an incident that happened to you (something you don’t mind being open about) and then everyone else is going to shower you with love and kindness and empathy. We are going to say things like “This should never have happened to you” “You are NOT stupid” “Your art is NOT bad” “You are infinitely creative” “You are full of love” etc etc. It’s an experiment. An empathy experiment. I believe it could be healing for us AND I believe this kind of showering of empathy can end the passing on of shame stories from one generation to the next.
We are going to bring those shame stories out from the depths and we are going to open ourselves up to receiving the empathy that could heal us. (You might not be on Facebook, or you might not like the idea of this, which is fine. Do it with three friends in your living room instead.)
And then we are going to do sums, for fun. Or pick up a pencil and doodle. Or just paint the whole world with the brightness of our kindness so there’s no dark corners for shame to drop its spores.
All of Brené Brown’s books
Particularly on shaming around art and creativity:
Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert
The Artists Way by Julia Cameron
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