Two weeks ago, I was toiling under a heavy burden of shame. In addition to reaching out to two of the best humans I know, I began reading The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown and borrowed Discovering Your Personality Type: The Essential Introduction to the Enneagram by Don Richard Riso with the hope of understanding a bit more about my personality and how to best live and work within the scope of it. Happily, this mini breakdown occurred right before my long-planned trip to the mountains of North Carolina, so I was gifted with ample time to explore my shame—its roots, its messages, and its nemeses.
I spent much of the first morning in the mountains exploring how shame affects my work. There are moments when I know, when I feel in my bones, that the work I do through my writing and the work I plan to do is good work, honest work, healing work. These moments arrive when I feel congruent and at peace with who I am. But when I lose contact with the core of my self, my emotional response is shame, and the work I do when ensconced in my shame place is pandering, inauthentic, and weak. My writing becomes a dance for applause and appreciation and love instead of an expression of my true self. Working from my shame, I hustle for approval, obsessively checking my stats and seeing likes, comments, views, and shares as benchmarks against which I measure my value and worth. When I don’t get the approval I am desperately seeking, I am plunged into the darkness of self-loathing, self-doubt, and negative self-talk which brings about another shame storm that starts the next hustle for approval. Rinse and repeat ad nauseum.
The truest truth of the matter is that no amount of approval is ever enough to satisfy me when I am working from a place of unworthiness. In that frame of mind, the encouragement, compliments, or affirmations from others can never fill me in a lasting way. Needy, fearful, shameful me is insatiable, greedily gobbling up crumbs of praise from others and scarfing down self-loathing like it’s my favorite kind of cake. My work suffers. My life suffers. I suffer.
Why does it matter how shame affects my work and why am I telling you all this? It matters because when I am working and writing from a place of shame, I am unwilling and unable to take the risks I know I must take to grow and change for the better. In that place, I avoid community, I do not challenge myself or my readers, I am boring in that particularly dreadful self-centered way, and I am not using my talent to better the life of anyone. Because writing is such a vital and daily part of my life, recognizing the signs of shame in my use of words serves as an early warning alarm that a shame storm is approaching and helps me foster awareness of how I am using my words. In turn, said awareness helps me become less inclined to use my words as an attempt to accumulate love, approval, and appreciation.
Why am I telling you all this? I know I am not alone in feeling and fearing shame and allowing it to affect the work I do and love, so I want you to know you are not alone either. I want to encourage you to at least name what is holding you down and keeping you smaller than your soul wants to be, because naming your demon is the first step in taking back power from it.