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The Feeling that Must Not be Named

As a parent, I recall distinctly the moment my child started to feel shame because she suddenly avoided making eye contact with me.

That was about eight years ago. And I hadn't figured out how to talk about shame as a parent until recently.

It made me realize that shame is like the Voldemort of emotions.

I've helped my child identify and name feelings like anger, disgust, frustration, annoyance, disappointment, jealousy, sadness, grief, loss and so on.

Yet shame was the feeling that must not be named, which only made it bigger and stronger.

Brené Brown defines shame as "the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love, belonging, and connection." She goes onto say that, "Shame thrives on secrecy, silence and judgment."

Reflecting on my experience navigating a complex and deeply emotional inner world, I've learned to recognize the consumptive darkness of shame. Not only does shame create a hallow, sinking feeling in my core. It's accompanied by thoughts of unworthiness and a twisted belief that I'm the only person who's ever felt this way in the entire world.

In other words, shame has a way of fueling it's own exponential growth. It starts with thoughts like, "I'm a bad person." "I'm just a terrible mother." "I'm a horrible entrepreneur." That are quickly followed by, "Why is everyone else good but me?"

Feeling shame, then believing we are alone in our suffering only exacerbates the downward spiral - like moving in quicksand.

As compassionate leaders, we must normalize shame instead of acting like it doesn't exist. That starts with being able to recognize, name and work through our personal experiences of shame in safe spaces.

I have a client who has been courageously shinning the light on her shame. She recently endured a trauma that completely wrecked her nervous system. And she feels deep shame about having been in the situation that led to the trauma in the first place.

She was already operating with a persistently low inner battery. Her feelings of shame only depleted her more, which made it harder for her to navigate emotionally demanding situations at work. Naming how she felt with me created a pathway for her to lean into self-compassion instead of judgment.

Shinning the light on her shame enabled her to reclaim agency in her life and work. By talking about it, she made things easier for herself, eliminating what had become a major roadblock. 

Awkward and uncomfortable as it may be, the more we talk about shame, the less power it has over us. Unlike in Harry Potter, the point isn't to eliminate shame. The point is to form deeper connections around the struggles of our shared humanity. And in so doing, be free to contribute our unique gifts to the world.

If you're persistently struggling with performing at your ideal level at work, you might want to shine the light on shame. Uncover your story of unworthiness so you can rewrite it, and renew your confidence. Want support? Reach out to me to schedule a free 30 minute consultation.

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