In-Between Thoughts 2.13.19: strengthening others against shame

Lifting update: I’m still seeing improvements and am consistently getting my strength back, a little at a time. Slow and steady works!

Aaaaaand onto thoughts…

On Tuesday Diane and I published a podcast episode on shame/guilt, and it was such a satisfying one to record because I struggle so much with shame. As such, I had a LOT of thoughts. (Thankfully, Diane is a fabulous and ruthless-in-the-awesome-(make-me-not-sound-rambly)-way editor!)

Besides the general motivation Brené Brown provides to be gentler with ourselves and to refrain from giving any particular act of ours too much weight or significance regarding our self-worth, rereading and talking about shame made me deeply grateful for those in my life who don’t add to my sense of shame. For those who practice grace towards me, loving me in my weaknesses and faults while also challenging me to be better. To do more good. To think (about myself and the world) more clearly and lovingly.

How it will look will be different for each relationship, but I think one of the best things we can be for others is an extra defense against shame. To join them in their struggle of seeing themselves clearly and to aid them by reminding them of the good, desirable things that make them who they are. The things about them that make us love them. The more we remind people of the good things they are, the more ammunition we give them against the shame that continues to assault them with the wrong message that who they are is unworthy or undesirable.

Perhaps I was particularly primed for these thoughts because of my recent musings on the environments we help create for others.  This post is perhaps just a more intimate, more personal kind of reflection. I think we have a real opportunity, if not responsibility, to help those we love build up defenses against shame.

At the risk of giving advice where it is not wanted, or speaking rashly on things I don’t know perfectly, I have a couple thoughts on ways we can create shame-free environments for others.

1. Tell people the specific things we love and appreciate about who they are.

This is probably the most fun one! I think it’s one of the most fun and satisfying aspects to friendship to communicate the things we love about them. I also think it’s important to refrain from making our compliments all about actions, but to make a point to acknowledge the person behind the actions. “I love how generous you are,” rather than “I love that you give me gifts on important days.” “I love how insightful you are about career issues” rather than “I love the podcast you put out.” (BUT PLEASE DO TELL ME IF YOU LOVE OUR PODCAST I MEAN IT’S TOTALLY NO BIGGIE WHATEVER I’M SUPER CHILL BUT DO YOU LIKE ME DO YOU LIKE ME DO YOU LIKE ME)

The more specific we can be, the better, I think. What are they insightful about? What is unique about their curiosity? How does their sensitivity manifest in their life? What do they show you about the world through their creativity?

2. Generously forgive.

I have a whole other post about boundaries and forgiveness to write one day, but for this post I just want to say that we cannot prevent ourselves from even inadvertently shaming others if we do not practice and demonstrate forgiveness. Forgiveness tells someone, “You did something hurtful, but I love and value you more than any single action you take. You are more to me than any one of your actions.” Forgiveness doesn’t necessarily restore the relationship back to where it was, but it does make it possible for the relationship to be restored between two imperfect people. In doing so, forgiveness reminds the other person that the relationship, that they and their worth to us, is far more than the hurtful act. Being generously forgiving is one of the best ways to shore our loved ones up against shame.

3. Guard our mental thoughts towards others.

What comes out of our mouths is a reflection of what goes on in our heads. We have to practice not shaming others internally in order to make sure we don’t express shame towards them.

4. Guard our mental thoughts towards ourselves.

This is probably the harder, more insidious one. What I shame myself for becomes what I shame others for. The standards and values I set for myself are those I measure others against, as well, even if not consciously. It’s not enough to put on gracious thoughts towards others; I need to put on gracious thoughts for myself to guard against harsh, unfair valuations of others. Practicing targeted gracious thoughts towards ourselves helps us inadvertently practice gracious thoughts towards others which then manifest grace in the way we treat others.

5. Learn others’ stories.

The more we learn about people of all walks of life, the more we understand the specific nature of their struggles and get a clear view of the reasons people “act out,” the less we’ll be prone to judge them. Understanding the environments shaping others helps us form more realistic expectations about what we can expect of others and about the wounds we should try to help them heal.

The shame we aim towards ourselves is intimately connected with the shame we aim towards others, instinctively or intentionally. Thinking graciously is so hard when the culture at large tells us every moment that we are not worthy “until/unless,” but I believe we owe it to ourselves and to all others to do the hard work. Also, on a selfish note, it simply makes our lives more enjoyable, less anxious, and more self-accepting. Whether thinking of others or thinking of ourselves, defending against shame is a worthwhile practice.

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