On Shame and Vulnerability: Be Someone's Breath of Fresh Air
I read about shame in a book for the first time when I was about 16. My most prominent conclusions after I turned the last page were that shame sucked, was totally insidious and that I had a whole lot of it. I wasn't entirely sure how it all got there, but I had a few ideas, and I was totally sure after reading that book that most of the things I was doing to dig my way out of shame were just making the hole I was in even bigger. As much as I'd like to think that 10 whole years later I'd be completely rid of shame, of course that's not the case. I've come to understand that no one is ever really completely rid of their shame, but that there are certain things each and every one of us can do to become more aware of shame and what it is so that it's less capable of taking over our entire lives when it rears its ugly head. Whereas guilt is the feeling that there's something wrong with what I did, shame is the conviction that there's something wrong with who I am. If every time you don't study as much as you think you "should" have for an exam you feel like there's something entirely wrong with who you are, that's shame. And given all the opportunities life gives us to internalize things this way and "fix ourselves" overnight, it's pretty easy to catch a whole lot of shame and not realize it until it's completely overwhelmed you and you're halfway into about nine different fad diets and buried in countless get-rich-quick self-help books with no idea how you got there.
In order to debunk a lot of the myths that shame has convinced me are truths in my life, I've had to do a whole lot of embracing of all the things that make me "me." The things that can cause me the most strife and feelings of being "different" are also the things that make me shine the brightest. I came to understand that by wishing I wasn't so sensitive, or wishing I had a greater capacity for other people's toughness, I was wishing away one of the best parts of myself. As a sensitive person, I'm also able to connect with people in a way that has brought me so much joy, and I'm able to understand someone when they're in a lot of pain and they feel different and like no one understands. I understand, and I love being able to. I love being able to say that "I understand" and watching the way it sets someone free when they feel like they are the only one for thousands of miles who's ever felt what they're feeling. That's a gift I would never want to throw away.
Well, almost never.
Lately I've been less psyched about my sensitivity than usual. It feels like a burden, I hate all these feelings and sometimes I just hate the way they make me feel so different. I keep a few very close friends near who just "get it" and I called one of them about two weeks ago and left her a rambling voicemail. It took me a few minutes to basically say "I feel like shit today, and I did yesterday too, and it totally sucks and I hate it." My friend is crazy busy and pregnant so she replied to me in a text this morning and since I was still feeling the same way two weeks after I left her that voicemail, I was utterly grateful for her reminder of something I'd really and totally forgotten:
...I just got your message...and I just had to tell you that I just love you! I feel that I often live in a fake world where people don't feel scared or shamed. In my world you are a breath of fresh air...
When I read her text, I remembered how much I love being that breath of fresh air. Even for all the grief it's caused me, my sensitivity and who I am isn't something I would change for anything. I'm glad that of those in the world who are less capable of handling life's harsher aspects that I can be someone who "gets it." My sensitivity has given me that ability, and I'm grateful for it. I'm grateful to be human, and wouldn't claim to be anything more or less.
My intention has always been to look inward and find love for what I see inside, instead of picking out little pieces and throwing them away or trying to exchange them for someone else's little pieces (and yes, I have to reset that intention at least 50 times a day, in case you were wondering...) We are all made of a million little pieces, some of which are easier to deal with than others, but all of which are meant for us. As much as you and your spouse or lover were meant for each other, or maybe you and your pet or you and your best friend, don't go forgetting one of the greatest love stories of all time. From the beginning and on to the very end, there's been no question in the matter: every beautiful part of you belongs with you. You were always meant for yourself.