A little light bulb went off for me recently. A sign of progress, an aha of growth, a rare moment of seeing that all this inner work we do can pay off.
Several months ago, I read Brene Brown’s incredible book, I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn’t): Telling the Truth About Perfectionism, Inadequacy, and Power. One of the pieces that struck me the most was the distinction between guilt and shame. Said simply, the self-talk for guilt is “I did something bad.” The self-talk for shame is, “I am bad.”
If you tend toward the I am bad, you are probably shame-prone. I definitely fall into that category and after reading her book I started to notice the small ways that this would show up for me. For example, when I would make a mistake like spilling something on the floor, my inner dialogue could go something like this, “You’re so stupid! What were you thinking? Idiot!!”
The other night I was cooking with a friend and as I went to put the heavy dish of lasagne into the oven I noticed a cookie sheet that had been stored inside. Drat! I thought, picked it up with my free hand and searched for a place to put this now blazing hot cookie pan down. Since there was no counter space left in the kitchen, I set it down on the living room floor and finished putting the lasagne in. Then I promptly forgot about it.
An hour later I went to retrieve it and noticed something alarming. The pan had melted the carpet into a perfect, cookie sheet size burn mark. I touched it. It was hard, like plastic is hard. I frowned realizing what I had done, but I didn’t go to all of the places where I would normally go. In my mind was a calmer sense of, ah well, that sure is a bummer, isn’t it? Not the smartest thing I’ve ever done, but what are you gonna do?
Where normally I would have crafted a better story for my husband, my landlord, my friends who have been gasping at the sight of it, I have been telling the truth in a really uncomplicated way. “Yeah, I put a hot cookie sheet on the floor. Who knew carpet was made of plastic?”
I’m noticing that the truth is not so bad. What’s hard are the untruths we tell ourselves every day. You are stupid, you are incompetent, you are not enough…. That is the painful stuff.
I’m so glad I am working with these lessons now, so that Ben might not have to witness me berate myself over and over and might have more compassion for himself and his own foibles. It really is possible to become more shame resilient, and for me it began with simply having the language for shame. This is one of the many gifts of Brene’s work.
If you haven’t read this book already, or even if you have, I urge you to go to her site and do the read-along with her. (It started on Monday) She even has a podcast to go along with it. Give a listen.. this stuff will change you in the most profound ways.