This past weekend, I was made aware of a woman experiencing some really horrible things. My heart broke for her. Not out of pity, but because of the work I do studying violence against women, I recognized all the factors making it hard for her to know what action to take. Does she have the answer inside of her? Absolutely. Does that make it easier for her to take action? Not at all.
“But Kelly, what factors could possibly be so big that someone would hesitate to take action?!?”
And the big one…
Brene Brown says “secrecy, silence and judgment: those are the three things shame needs to grow exponentially in our lives.”
When anyone is experiencing a traumatic event in their life, it can be paralyzing. There are so many questions they ask themselves. How did this happen? How did I not see the early warning signs? What will people think of me when they find out? People think I’m so great in other areas of my life, how did I screw this part up so badly?!? They want to hide their pain because the pain of other’s judgment feels suffocating and isolating.
In my opinion, social media has amplified the power of shame. It’s the double-edged sword of seeking connection by sharing parts of our lives with others and the dopamine hit of getting likes and affirmations in the comments. We want people to like us, so we continue to refine our public image to keep the good feelings flowing. To share the not-so-great moments of our life and be “real” in the virtual world gets shoved in the closet. The lines between real life and the virtual world are so blurred, that shoving embarrassment in the closet starts happening in our relationships with the people in our physical world. During the pandemic, I found myself not wanting to talk about my struggles online or in person because a.) Everyone was struggling with something, if not everything, in their life so I didn’t want to add to the weight of the world and b.) I strive to maintain a high level of personal responsibility so working on myself to get through the tough times makes me look inward for answers. While that may seem noble, if I’m not careful, I stop sharing my pain with the people who love me unconditionally. I keep the messy parts of myself secret because in the past, the judgment of those I thought would be there for me no matter what, was crushing. I was ostracized by those closest to me and left to fend for myself. (teaser: I dive more deeply into this in my upcoming book. Gah! Being vulnerable was scary but so therapeutic!)
I look at life’s difficult times as lessons, so while I wouldn’t wish my experiences on anyone, I see the silver-lining in what I learned by getting through it. My increased empathy for others, my refusal to judge anyone by their past, and the belief that no one’s life is perfect. My mother tells me when I was a little girl, if I got hurt, I didn’t want to be held. By her account, I would lash out and want to be left alone. In reality, I did want to be consoled, but on my terms. I see the same behavior in my youngest. When he gets upset, he wants to be alone. I wait a beat, then I sit close by and let him know I’m there for him whenever he’s ready to talk or needs a hug. I stay quiet and I hold the space for him. It usually doesn’t take long before he tells me why he’s mad and ends up in my lap for a hug.
The woman I mention at the beginning of this post is in the middle of a storm. What she doesn’t need is anyone making her feel ashamed, feel like it’s her fault, or pass judgment. She needs to know her closest circle of people loves her unconditionally and will hold space for whatever feelings she needs to work through. She needs to know that when she asks for help, she won’t be told what to do, but instead will be given any and all the resources to take action.
No one is perfect. We’ve all got our own shit. Thinking someone else has it all together and finding yourself jealous of YOUR perception of them is toxic. Twisting jealousy into judgement to make yourself feel better is a shitty thing to do. On the flip side, don’t feel like you have to air your dirty laundry in public to be “real” either. It’s your rules. It’s your mental boundaries. Live life on your terms.
“Can we get rid of the pedestals already?
I don’t need to tell you all the times I fucked up in my life so you can feel better about yourself.
You don’t have to pretend you’ve got all your shit figured out for me to respect you.
The grave equals all.”