January 26, 2013

Acceptance and Shame

In a recent blog post, Brene Brown defines shame as "the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging." Yes, it is intense and painful. I know shame well. When I was at the tender age of 5, my mother met mental illness. She was hospitalized for bi-polar disease. These were the events: mom acting strangely, mom gone, mom back. This was the narrative I chose to explain these events: something is deeply wrong with me; I am unworthy. This explanation seemed logical to 5-year-old me, and more importantly, it provided me a semblance of control--if I try harder, act kindly, don't upset anyone, get good grades, and excel, then maybe my mom will get better. The reality is my mom still has bi-polar disease, which is completely out of my control. And another reality is that I've always been worthy of love and belonging.

Years of self-reflection and therapy helped me realize my habit of shame. Not only notice it, but make forward progress. When I feel shame (my gut reaction to many events), I pause and tend to myself. I don't move forward until I'm centered enough to see the truth: I am worthy, just as I am.

I understand shame; I know it intimately--an emotion that feels isolating  and embarrassing and not-appropriate-to-talk-about. Sometimes I want to yell from the rooftops: I feel shame every day. If I declare it and expose it, then it loses power. And I connect with others on a deeper level--we honor both the darkness and the light in each other. 

Sometimes I don't detect my shame habit and I spend hours or days in a funk--in the distorted darkness. But then I remember. I remember my worthiness and basic goodness; I find my center and see my choices. Because just as I know shame, I also know acceptance. I've felt my heart open with acceptance of others, life difficulties, and of myself. Acceptance is the expansive antidote to shame's shrinking darkness. And it's a daily practice.

Shame sprawls as heavy sludge,
attached to all.
It crouches in dark corners, shuts the blinds,
and steals my light.
Shame plunders my energy.
It distorts the world into fun-house mirrors.
Shame sits thickly on my throat;
and changes my words.
Shame locks me in a dark, cold,
mold-covered basement.
Until I awake,
ascend those basement steps,
and set myself free.

Acceptance embraces and warms all my heart;
even the most tender pieces.
It softens sharp edges, expands constriction,
and radiates trust.
Acceptance invites friends to the party: 
It slows the pace, listens, and offers choices;
it offers love.
Acceptance places me in a vast meadow of wildflowers 
on a warm spring day.


  1. I hear you.
    And I totally understand.

  2. Thank you for sharing this wisdom and these warm insights, right out of your heart. I am so grateful for knowing you. Especially the words about acceptance resonate deeply ... I will copy your words and hang them in a place where I can see them every time I need them.
    Warm hug to you: have a delightful Sunday!
    PS: love the symbolic meaning of your photography, or at least the way I interpret your first and last photo. Shame makes us see everything in a fuzzy way; acceptance helps us to see things sharper and to let the light shine through, even on days that feel cold to our soul.

  3. I so understand... I think many of us grew up feeling shame and unworthiness... some people climb out of that pit quickly, some slowly (my path and I'm still climbing) and some never do... being open really connects with others... thank you.

  4. HUGE thanks to you all for your very supportive words and for your understanding.