Dr. Brené Brown, research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work has done some groundbreaking work in the area of vulnerability and shame. Her research shows that most of us carry shame. And that no one wants to talk about it due to its very uncomfortable nature. Yet it limits us immensely if we don’t address it.
Like the “Dementors” in Harry Potter, shame sucks the life and lightness out of us leaving us feeling hopeless. Unlike guilt, which says, “I did something bad”, shame says, “I am bad.” It’s the difference between, “I made a mistake,” and “I am a mistake.” Where guilt has ‘wiggle’ room with the possibility of moving forward and doing better, shame has no momentum or possibility for improvement. It is stagnant, with a ‘fait accompli’ feeling to it.
In her research, Dr. Brown found that 85% of people remembered something so shameful that happened to them in school that they felt that it changed how they thought, how they felt and ultimately who they became. And of this 85%, 40% of those people said that their shaming experience had to do with creativity. They felt shamed during art, writing, movement, theatre, etc.
The good news is that shame can be worked with and healed. Empathy is the antidote to shame. Knowing who you are in your ‘authentic self’, accepting and loving that, is the end of shame.
There is great power in walking into our stories and owning them. It creates resilience to shame. Orphaning and not owning our stories gives shame extraordinary power. Our worthiness lives inside our stories. Brown states, “We can walk into the stories of our lives and own them or we can stand outside of our stories and hustle for our worthiness.” Worthiness has no pre-requisite.
Creativity has been a place of discover and healing for me for many years. The painting linked to this blog is called 'Stripping Away.' It is hanging in a law firm in Vancouver.
'Stripping Away' was a painting that assisted me in healing layers of toxic shame built up over a long period of time. The painting was paper over canvas and I found myself tearing away strips of the paper as I released my shame and pain. I was un-lodging some deep, dark, tightly packed energy and emotion through this painting.
Still, to this day, looking at it takes me back to the experience I had while creating it. It marks a passage for me that felt quite profound.
Peeling away our layers of shame isn't that comfortable or easy. I won’t sugar coat it for you…it is friggin’ hard work. But the resulting freedom, both creative and emotional, is well worth the work.
Brené Brown’s latest book, Daring Greatly, is a great read. She also offers a range of reasonably priced online courses through soundstrue.com.
Remember, art holds all of who we are and has the capacity to transform shame to worthiness and self-love.
I recommend it to anyone and I would happily and humbly be your guide through this tough terrain.