Like many, I grew up in a “don’t speak” culture that carries with it a code of silence deep within its bones. Although I don’t have a horrific story of abuse, the emotional abandonment and trauma I did experience, took years to unravel. Underneath my story are layers of shame that kept me silent and absent from myself for a long time.
Shame is insidious emotion that affects everyone, even when you don’t know that shame exists. It doesn’t necessarily strike with the embarrassment of a wrong done that can easily be righted, but incredulously carries the punch of feeling your not enough, in and of itself. Where there is unrecognized shame there is a disconnection from oneself at the deepest level and that disconnection and uncertainty is what fosters silence, personally or in group settings. Where there is silence there is always shame.
The Silence Code
The code of silence is so deeply ingrained in culture, you don’t have to look far to witness eyebrows lift, body’s tense, internal shutters slam and doors lock, as people scurry to protect against the threat of shame’s exposure. Everyone knows the unspoken code even when you’re unaware that there is one. All the little things you think you must keep under wrap about yourself are the things you need to bring into the light and release. These might be as simple as someone’s comment that made you feel small and insignificant or a bigger event that is consistently triggered, because it profoundly marked your life.
Despite the years of doing work to identify and reconnect the shamed parts of myself, I still get triggered at times by abandonment, indifference, absenteeism and plain ole relational ghosting, that hits on my early shame experiences and challenges my sense of worth and lovability. And if you’re like many, I bet you might too.
Because abandonment is part of my story, I sense when people are emotionally unavailable. Here’s the thing that you need to know. Ghosting or an inability for someone to be present in your life is never about you. It’s about their own shame issues. And anytime you or I fail to be present in our own lives, it’s not about another person, but our own stuff. And as much as shame makes you want to hide, you’ll never heal your triggers by avoiding them. In a culture that loves busying itself, over achievement, over functioning, care-taking and all manner of coping mechanisms, none of these will compensate for a sense of unworthiness. Coping mechanisms never have the ability to rid you of shame and without tools to navigate a shame spiral, it’s likely your emotions will merely off load onto the nearest distraction or scapegoat, instead of being addressed and healed.
The Courage of Vulnerability
It takes courage to become present to your emotional climate and recognize your own shame triggers, however incidental they may seem. Shame only exists in silence, so it is vital to break the silence code and show up in your life and speak! This is challenging when you’ve been shut down and sequestered by shame for years.
Because shame is always tied to perceptions and emotional stimuli, it’s important to remember that your feelings are not necessarily facts. Being vulnerable and coming clean in safe spaces about a shame trigger is the best way to defuse its power and debunk the message of ineptness that shame elicits. Refusing to give your old story lines the power to shame you is a huge step in your growth. If you do get triggered, work to reclaim your personhood, knowing that you are not your shame. Navigating through shame takes brave, consistent work.
Here’s what I want you to know:
You are not your feelings of shame.
You are not the problem.
You are not the reason for someone’s inability to show up for you or to love you the way you deserved to be loved.
You don’t have to carry the weight of anyone’s ineptness any longer.
Silence in any culture is shame based and you have nothing to be ashamed of.
Your body is not shameful.
Your mind is not shameful.
Disagreeing about how you want to live your life or what your belief and values are is nothing to be ashamed of.
It’s your right and responsibility to direct your life.
Although you are responsible for your choices and responses in life, you are aloud to be angry.
You can be angry and you don’t have to sugar coat the truth. In time you will move on.
You don’t have to do it perfectly. You don’t even have to get it right.
You only have to show up for yourself and speak what you need to speak.
You can break the silence code and reconnect with yourself.
You can heal and transform silence and move into a life of freedom.
You are fully worthy of love and you are fully loved as you are right now.
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