The other night, I made a passive-aggressive comment toward Melissa to indirectly let her know that I would like her help making dinner since I had more work to do and she was done. Instead of asking for what I wanted, I called out, “Why do I have to make dinner when I still have work to do?”
As soon as I said it, I felt ashamed. That’s an old way of communicating and one I’ve been working on cleaning up. I default to it as a way to protect myself from disappointment in case I don’t get the help I ask for.
She called back, “I was going to make it, but you got in there before me.”
“That’s ok,” I said. “I got it.”
And I really meant it. I did have it. That response wasn’t sarcastic. You see, my shame attack told me that the punishment for my passive-aggressiveness was to have to do it alone.
So let’s review all the clutter in that scenario, shall we?
First we have my emotional clutter of assuming that Melissa knows what I need without asking, and that she simply chooses to disregard it. Then we have my cluttered communication by not asking for what I need in the first place. Oh and then there’s Melissa feeling bad about herself for not anticipating my needs. And my feeling like shit in the kitchen because of my comment. Then there’s my limiting belief telling me “See? You’re on your own, kid.”
And so on and so on. Isn’t that lovely?
All of that happens so fast that you wouldn’t even realize how many layers are in there! To top it off, my shame was keeping me in the kitchen instead of going to the living room to apologize.
Then I thought, “Shame on you, shame!” and I marched in there and sat down beside Melissa.
“I’m sorry I said that. I should’ve just asked you to take over instead of making a snide remark.”
I saw her eyes fill up.
“That’s not how we talk to each other,” I continued, “and I’m really sorry.”
My willingness to be vulnerable invited her to do the same which led us to a beautiful, honest conversation about what limiting beliefs and thoughts were going on for each other when I said that. It brought up some old shit for her, too.
There we both sat, previously in our own respective shame attacks, but now held in the safe space of a heart-connected conversation.
As my BFF Brené Brown says, “If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can’t survive.” OK, full disclosure, I don’t actually know Brené – YET – but when we meet, we will totally be fast friends.
Whatever trips you up as you work toward living your best life, shame seems to always ride shotgun. So you have the shame around your physical, emotional, and mental clutter, then you have the clutter of the shame itself! And that shame is the major player in keeping you stuck.
Another brilliant quote from my (soon-to-be) buddy Brené, says, “Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change.”
It’s your shame that says you’ll never change.
It’s your shame that says you’ll never be able to (fill in the blank).
And it’s your shame that tells you you’re unlovable.
But here’s the thing — your shame lies. Its entire foundation is a lie. And that lie is built out of fear: Fear of failure, and even moreso, fear of success.
Your shame, your fear, and your inaction all comes from a place in you that wants to stay right where it’s at. Because it’s familiar. It knows those surroundings. It knows those feelings. It knows how to navigate the misery there.
Even though the place you long to get to might be so much better for you, the trip to get there is way too risky for your fear. And the fastest, most effective way to stop you from trying is to tell you that you are incapable/dumb/fat/lazy/disorganized/you name it.
Ready for the good news? (You know it’s always coming!) When you recognize that this is what’s going on, you can then reframe the shame. Look at it with compassion and you can soften up to it, give it space to express itself, and see it as that expression of fear instead of a dictator giving orders.
To befriend your shame and meet it with love:
- Pay attention to when it rears its head so you can learn its triggers. This will most often happen when you’re about to take action that is outside of your comfort zone or when you’re behaving in a way that challenges a limiting belief.
- Listen closely to what it’s saying. What is its go-to technique to stop you in your tracks?
- Now listen again through a compassionate filter. What kind of reassurance does it need to be willing to stretch itself a bit? Imagine a friend came to you saying the same thing about herself. What would you say to help her feel better?
- Grab your journal and interview your shame. Throw a question at the top of the page — something like, “What feels so scary about giving this a go?” and then write, write, write. No censoring. No editing. Just expressing.
- Finally, review what you wrote and hold a safe space for it. Acknowledge it. Receive it. Feel it. The more your shame or fear feels safe with you, the quieter it will be as you take courageous steps.
Remember, anything that gets in the way of you living your best life is clutter, and that includes the monkey mind chattering away up there. But like any block or obstacle, when you learn to work with it instead of against it, you become a powerful duo who can accomplish anything.