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Shame, Guilt & Vulnerability

“Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.” – Brené Brown

The man said: “You know, you just wish that you’d gotten around to do all the stuff you talked about when they were kids”.

I just sat there and listened as he listed all the stuff he wished he’d done with his kid. He had one of those lives you kind of envy, basically “living the dream”, and here he is on the verge of crying. He continued: “I guess you do the best that you can. Life gets in the way and, woof, it’s 20 years later. You’ve only done a fraction of what you’d planned. Man… I’m still grateful for all the stuff we actually GOT to do”.

In that instant his demeanor completely changed! Now I recognized him again. I mean, his creative output has been as vulnerable as it can be, that’s what drew me to him in the first place. But this, i’ve never seen that emotional side of him before. It got me thinking about my own life, what it was like growing up.

He talked about trying to fit in, about living up to the expectations society puts on us and I totally identified with it. Then he said something that really got me thinking. “When I lost my job, I lost myself. I felt such shame about not being able to provide for my family. You know, you put a brave face on for the kids but… It hurts. Like… Really BAD!”.

There was that word: “shame”. AGAIN!


Denver – The Face of Shame.

Recently i’d had several conversations that went in the same direction. Some of them were really uncomfortable. Alcoholism, drugs, mental disorder, physical abuse, things that gave me a lump in my throat and made me want to say: “Yeah, i’m… I’ve got to go somewhere and… Do… Something… See ya!”. I stayed with it, but why the hell was it so hard?

It wasn’t a couple of days later everything came together in my head. I’d had the thoughts bouncing around for a while when I saw a TED Talk by Brené Brown that just made me go: “Oh, shit… That’s it!”.

I’d only touched on the stuff slightly in my mind and writing, but this laid it out flat. The reason I was having such a hard time with this stuff was because i’d gone through similar experiences that I still felt ashamed about. I didn’t want to see another person hold up that mirror to my face.

Luckily, i’d been judged and shamed myself for opening up about that stuff in the past and decided to not do that to other people. At times, of course, I did. And guess what? I felt really ashamed about that too. Go figure!

Guilt And Shame

Flowcharts is teh shit! Courtesy of:

The greatest tool she gave me was to make a distinction between “shame” and “guilt”. Basically, “guilt” is when we MAKE mistakes and “shame” is when we tell ourselves that we ARE mistakes.

This too was an entirely unpleasant experience at that moment. Imagine looking back at your life, all the instances you’ve held back and not gone for the stuff you’ve wanted, shrunken down from a challenge or not spoken up about what you think or feel.

The first thing I tell my clients when they tell me that a lyric, scene or dialogue feels too close to home and uncomfortable is: “Good. Go there!”. So, practicing what I preach I decided to expose myself to more of that. I got a hold of “The Gifts Of Imperfection” and “I Thought It Was Just Me”.

I highly recommend you to get a hold of her work, if nothing else check the two videos at the bottom.

There was a section in “I Thought It Was Just Me” where a man approached Brené Brown about what she’d learned about male shame. She admitted that she’d focused primarily on women. He said: “Well. That’s convenient”. She wondered what he meant by “convenient”. Here’s what he had to say:

– We have shamed. Deep shame. But when we reach out and share our stories, we get the emotional shit beat out of us. And it’s not just by other guys. Of course, they beat it out of us. But so do the women. You say you want us to be vulnerable and real, but come one. You can’t stand it. It makes you sick to see us like that. That’s all I wanted to say. Thanks for listening.

Damn… I cried. A whole frickin’ lot. Something like 25 years worth of shame and suffering came bubbling up to the surface. It wasn’t just the individual incidences, it was the pure horrific essence of what it all came down to.

That’s why it was so hard for me to listen to those guys share their stories. That’s why I hold back on telling my truth sometimes. That’s why the shame comes up again and again. We aren’t allowed to be weak. As soon as we do Caesar commands: “Let the emotional shit beating begin!”.

Julius Caesar

And I was like: “Can you believe the Gaul?”.

For women it was something completely different. I can’t pretend to know what that feels like but I could see the truth in what Brené was saying. Growing up with a sister, mother, grandmother and something like 20 aunts exposed me to a LOT of the struggles women go through. I didn’t have 20 aunts, but at family gatherings there were a swarm/gaggle/pride (whatever the correct term is) of women!

So, what happened after these encounters? Well, I came away with a stronger bond with these guys. It felt like we could be there for each other without the fear of getting the emotional shit beat out of us. There was more trust and mutual respect and admiration for having the guts to speak up about our struggles, both personal and creative.

I’ll leave you over to Brené Brown!

“The difficult thing is that vulnerability is the first thing I look for in you and the last thing I’m willing to show you. In you, it’s courage and daring. In me, it’s weakness.”

“We judge people in areas where we’re vulnerable to shame, especially picking folks who are doing worse than we’re doing.”

“When you stop caring what people think, you lose your capacity for connection. When you’re defined by it, you lose our capacity for vulnerability.”

“A deep sense of love and belonging is an irreducible need of all people. We are biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, to be loved, and to belong.”

Brené Brown – The Power Of Vulnerability

Brené Brown – Listening To Shame

Brené Brown – Daring Greatly – On Chase Jarvis LIVE

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