I friend of mine recently disclosed to me a part of her life that she had kept hidden for quite some time. Actually, this has happened more than once in the past year, with multiple people in my life divulging some of their closest held confidences to me. I don’t take that lightly, and it’s a tremendous honor to be trusted in that way. While each time I felt humbled and thankful to be able to show support and, in some instances, say “Me too,” in at least two of these instances I had the same thought: What the hell took so long? In both of these instances, people unloaded something they’d held tightly to and intentionally kept secret. In both instances, shame and fear of judgment had locked their hearts closed and led them to believe that they were better off keeping quiet about the things they were carrying. We’re talking years of silence. I immediately took it personally that they hadn’t trusted me sooner, wondering, What have I done to make this person believe I can’t be trusted until now? I’m no therapist, but I consider myself a pretty open minded, accepting gal, especially of the people I love. After some firm “it’s not all about you” self-talk, I realized that the secrecy of these friends had nothing to do with me, and everything to do with the shame tapes.
We all have them. The shame tapes tell us that because of this perceived failure, or that imperfection, that we are no longer worthy of love. For some of us they play all the time, paralyzing us in our relationships, jobs, families, and friendships. Shame devastates. For both of the people in this story, shame was born when they were told as children that people who make that choice, or feel that way are bad. Both of these people heard this message from their churches, teachers, and parents. Judgment based teaching and preaching filled these two otherwise courageous people with such shame and fear that they truly believed that even their closest friends might take back their love and support if they opened up about what they had come to believe. That, my friends, pisses me off.
After realizing how deeply entrenched these two were in the message of their shame tapes, I grew to appreciate their honesty and vulnerability even more. I believe dialogue can heal, and that talking about it- whatever it is- is always better than shutting it down. It’s no wonder I work in environments in which I am tasked with feeling, listening to, and acknowledging vulnerability and courage. The stories I have heard, and the resilience that their tellers have shown me, severely weakened my patience for those who would pass judgment on the lives and decisions of others. Seeing fear in the lives of the people I care about, because they have been told that to be or to act a certain way would make them “less than,” makes me want to lock all the critics up in the closet they’ve forced my friends into and let them rage there for a while.
If you’re reading this and find yourself paying too much attention to your shame tapes, hear this: If you have filed for bankruptcy, gotten addicted to antidepressants, eaten yourself numb, starved yourself skinny, wasted hours at a time watching pornography, achieved some really incredible things just so your father would finally notice you and turned to whiskey when he still didn’t, fallen in love with the wrong person, gotten a bad grade, slept with too many people, slept with too few people, gotten fired, or lost the race, you are not alone. You are not bad. You are not unworthy of love. You are still here. You are stronger than you think. You don’t have to keep it to yourself, because someone else needs to hear your story. Someone else needs to know that they’re not alone, either.