Doing the Work: We are in it Together
When it comes to shame, we are all in it together — it levels the playing field.
There is no “us and them” with shame.
Shame just levels.
Like thousands upon thousands, I deeply resonate with Brené Brown’s research, books and Ted Talks. I have been integrating her definitions and theoretical orientation into my work with clients, in my own life and faith walk over the last few years.
And I longed to do this work on a deeper level.
So when the opportunity to train with Brené and her team came up – I was in.
And I found out how much I was in last weekend during the second of two weekend trainings.
As Brené writes in her psychoeducational Shame Resilience Curriculum, Connections:
There is no getting around it: You must do your own shame work in order to facilitate this material Wholeheartedly. In my research I have found shame to be a difficult and painful topic for both laypeople and mental health professionals. Unlike many of the other topics that professionals study, when it comes to shame, there is no “us and them”. As professionals, we don’t have the luxury of thinking, “Let me learn about this topic that affects my clients so I can help them.” Shame is universal – no one is exempt. If we can’t talk about shame and examine the impact it has on our own lives, we certainly can’t be helpful to others.
Driven by my own professional standards and ethics, my heart sang as I read further:
Our most basic ethic as mental health professionals is “to do no harm”. I believe we risk violating that ethic when we examine issues with clients we have not examined in our own lives.
Here’s the bottom line: You should not do this work with others until you have done this work yourself.”
Since I started this training last July, I realized it is one thing to read the books, listen to the Ted talks and seminars, and recite the definitions in talks and in my sessions with clients.
And it is a whole other thing to live. this. work.
I had originally planned to have my husband come with me on this weekend away. I knew this work was going to be hard. Getting personal with a bunch of professional people I did not know sounded like a mild form of torture. But my husband had to cancel at the last minute.
So I went into this experience way more vulnerable then I intended.
I realized quickly true vulnerability makes my skin crawl. Sure, I share deeply and authentically with MY people. But with strangers, mental health people at that, heck no! Everything inside my head said, “Zip it. Walk Away. Do not let these parts of you be seen. Stop now!”
I was still under the impression I could avoid vulnerability while still meeting my desire for connection.
And I began to build up my armor. I made commitments to myself to only share “this” much. I was going to just have a toe-in-the-water experience, check the box and then get on a plane to go home. Stat!
Best laid plans…
After I arrived at the training site, I had some precious quiet time.
I felt this quiet nudge that said, “Go deep. I am here with you. Allow yourself to really be seen.” I pushed back.
“Are you (bleeping) kidding me? These are a bunch of strangers. Therapist strangers. It will not be professional to do the Oprah-ugly-cry in front of them let alone have certain parts of my story seen. And (bleep), I do not want to talk about THAT stuff. This dark stuff in MINE. I think about it, pray about it. But you have to be a really special person to me if I am going to talk about THAT stuff with you.”
Yeah, it was a scrappy prayer time.
But I trusted where I was being led and the leadership team. I pushed through the resistance and leaned into the experience. I shared. And was seen. I cried at times — in public. I did not share the deep soul dark stuff in full detail but I pushed myself to touch on it. I was vulnerable in all its glory.
At one point, I dropped into the shame zone.
I began to hand over my worth to others. I worried what the other participants and leaders thought. Surely, I was going to be the first person they denied certification. I was too much. A burden. Not fit to be a clinician. I blamed, judged, and thought things that were pretty ridiculous in hind site but at the time seemed completely reasonable. I had tunnel vision.
And then I remembered to pull my worth off the table and not leave it open for discussion or debate.
I practiced the skills of shame resilience. I drew from courage and spoke with a new friend. I named my shame. I connected.
And I felt clear again. Still raw, but grounded in Truth because I reclaimed my worth and value from the collective other. I felt empowered because I was able to reboot and get grounded so quickly.
Yes, I still struggle with the discomfort of vulnerability, but I have a new-found respect for it after this experience. I am exhaling into the growth, catharsis, and healing that comes on this side of experiencing vulnerability along with a deeper sense of connection and intimacy with those in my life.
And I know this process will continue for the rest of my life. But I now am better equipped when I see shame a-comin’.
Empathy, Authenticity, Vulnerability, Courage, Shame — they are no longer trendy jargon to me. They have three dimensional meaning and depth that has come from doing this work. Living this work.
And my commitment to scaling this work is more impassioned then ever.
We will be launching mini workshops on topics that support this work in addition to weekend Cultivating Courage Intensives and more weekly workshops.
Even if you do not live in San Diego, there is an opportunity for you to dig deep and start the journey towards building shame resilience. I would love to walk with you on this journey.
It is hard and important work.
But never forget, we are all in it together.