“Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.”
Last month I attended a conference that included a workshop on shame and vulnerability. As I sat listening, the facilitator shared her belief (based on the teachings of the incredible Brene Brown) that when choosing to speak vulnerably we should connect with someone who has “earned the right to hear our story.” She went on to explain that this means someone trusted — “who cares about you and your feelings enough to receive your vulnerability compassionately”.
While I think that sharing vulnerably with a trusted person is an excellent first step, in reality many times the people we need to be vulnerable with won’t always be able to receive our truth or shame with compassion and non judgement. When speaking vulnerably we have absolutely no control over the other person’s response to what we say. Because of this there are times when even though we may want to be vulnerable, we might not be ready to accept whatever response we could get. We may be too emotionally attached to both the person’s perception of ourselves and the outcome of our words. Seeing this can allow a person to step back and accept that choosing vulnerability in this situation isn’t the right choice, and that’s okay.
There are other times though where our need to speak up and be vulnerable may be related to how another person has treated us or how they treated someone else. If we don’t speak up, our hurt feelings can grow and we may end up avoiding them because of it. Depending on how much this person means to you, a decision may have to be made to either be vulnerable and speak your truth — which could result in a closer and deeper relationship — or remaining hurt with a wall between you. Speaking vulnerably carries great risks but potentially great possibilities.
For me personally there are times when my truth is screaming at me to be spoken, and even though I have no control over the outcome, and can’t be sure that the person I need to speak to has earned the right to hear it….I can’t not do it. Over and over I remind myself “It’s just my truth. They don’t need to like it or even agree with it. But it’s my truth and that’s not wrong.” To me truly being vulnerable means I do so without knowing that I will be received. It is when the other persons response is less important than my desire to speak my truth.
In order to be able to do this, I think it’s essential to connect with and honour these truths. To look at my self, my body and my stories and find a way to accept them with compassion – regardless of how others feel about them. Some of my own stories are really hard to look and I feel like they don’t reflect my character or the person I know I am. Yet they’re still my stories, and getting used to them means “sitting in them” rather than avoiding them. Sitting in them brings acceptance of them. The same goes for my body. Some parts of it don’t fit with how I think I should look, yet this is how I look. By spending time naked I become familiar with my body and the way it looks and feels. When I’m really struggling with an old story, or a feeling about my body, I imagine that my child, best friend, lover, or a perfect stranger is showing me or telling me the same story and I think of how I would respond to them and why.
As I continued listening to the facilitator speak I thought of all of the women in my Bodysex workshops or that I’ve orgasm coached, who have shared their stories and their bodies with me not knowing beforehand if I’d “earned the right.” I don’t believe for a second that they weren’t scared but I do believe that they, like me, felt that being vulnerable with their truth was more important than my response to it. I believe that when we are willing to do this we change shame from the “painful feeling or experience that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging” to a feeling of acceptance and belonging exactly as we are. And when we feel this we can choose to be vulnerable with many, knowing that there will always be one person for sure who has earned the right to hear our story. That person is Ourself.
*** photo credit to Dana Kellet