Shame. We all have it at one point or another. We feel shame about big mistakes we had tons of control over and also for aspects about us over which we had none.
As a quitting evangelist, I spend a lot of time helping people quit their limiting mindsets and stories that are holding them back. Oftentimes those stories involve feeling they have to live up to society’s expectations of them, or that they have to please everyone all the time.
But another big culprit that tends to sit ever further beneath the surface is the shame monster, and it gets to hide out there because our conscious minds don’t even want to go to that place when trying to tease out what mental blocks may be keeping us from playing full-out.
Shame researcher and author Brené Brown makes the distinction between guilt and shame in the following way: guilt is feeling you MADE a mistake, whereas shame is feeling you ARE a mistake. And feeling as though you are a mistake can sure have a lot of downstream consequences.
Just like on those days you plan to diet, but start off with a giant cinnamon roll and think “well, I’ve already made one mistake, the rest of the day I may as well not try,” feeling as though you are a mistake, or inherently flawed or bad, can prevent you from trying to improve and grow.
And it can certainly prevent you from putting yourself out there, lest someone figure out you’re imperfect in some shameful way (and you realize that depending on our upbringing, we can feel shameful about darn near anything.)
Now shame wasn’t a concept I was overly familiar with at the time I attended a coaching seminar and volunteered for a live coaching session. The facilitator had worked his magic into me half-admitting to an “I’m not enough” limiting belief. But as a fairly left-brained person, I was always able to logic my way out of that one pretty easily, so I wasn’t sure that was actually my nemesis.
Luckily for me, a woman in the audience was watching my live coaching and heard me say something that tipped her off to the fact that maybe it wasn’t that I didn’t feel I was enough, it was a matter of shame. She bravely approached me afterward and humbly offered her thoughts. She said, “I heard you say, ‘I’m just a country-bumpkin from the middle of nowhere, who am I to go hobnob with successful entrepreneurs,’ — is there any chance you feel some shame around your upbringing?”
This hit me like a ton of bricks. DID. I. EVER. Yes, having been raised in a family where my dad did such lovely unrefined things as pick his teeth with an electronic pencil while at the table in front of my friends all while living on the actual wrong side of the physical train tracks that divided my town into the haves and have-nots, this shame ran deep.
I finally got out of my small town and went to medical school, where seemingly everyone was from a richer family with physician parents. They’d all traveled the world. I’d never made it further than Canada, where I’d had lunch one day and then returned to the US. To make matters worse, my anatomy lab partner relished in pointing out how little I knew of the outside world as she’d regale me with stories of hanging out with the Prince of Monaco (is that a thing? it was some royalty from Monaco…again, too small town to have known the difference).
A lot of my decision to go into medicine was to save me from this shameful upbringing, as I knew it came with financial opportunities beyond what I was raised with, and the ability to work outside of the Midwest. But the lesson I learned the hard way was as follows:
You can’t run from shame. You can’t educate yourself out of it. You can’t earn your way around it. You have to face the monster head-on, or it will haunt you forever.
Fast forward to residency. By this time I own my third house and am rolling in a brand new BMW…none of which I could really afford, as I was definitely borrowing money from my grandmother at one point, but all of which I needed to keep the shame at bay. With these trappings, who could ever think I was poor?
After I finished residency and fellowship I was a full-fledged doctor, ready to make the big bucks and finally put this poor business behind me. There was just one problem: I didn’t like practicing medicine, and I knew that doing it for 40 hours a week (or more, as is required of most doctors) would kill me.
So while my med school friends went on to their well-paying (albeit often miserable-sounding jobs), I went to work for a job where I work 10 hours a week, and make just enough to pay med school loans and not have a roommate (which in Southern California is a true feat and probably a terrible financial decision on my part, but I digress…)
What did that lead to? Yep, you guessed it, more shame about being the poorest of the occupation that was supposed to have the highest earning capacity. Add to it me having later gotten a law degree (which should also lead to the big bucks but that I wasn’t using to get any bucks) and I continued to feel even more shameful of my meager earnings (again, only by doctors’ standards, and anyone else trying to pay off med school loans while living in said roommate-less San Diego condo.)
Returning now to the woman standing in front of me suggesting I had a shame problem. I was so grateful she had shared her insight with me. She was spot-on: I was ashamed of being from a small town, with an uncultured upbringing, and a sense of relative poverty I couldn’t shake no matter how much I made.
And I know I’m not alone. People (including me) hide much more personal things, like addictions, or affairs, or “bad” thoughts, or prejudices, or medical conditions, or sexual assault, or abuse. But at the root of all that shame is a feeling that we are bad, or unworthy, people.
So how do we start to heal our shame and rewrite our stories? As Brené Brown pointed out, a huge first step is realizing you are not alone. Many “good” and “successful” people have the exact same stories that you do (had to throw in quotes because those are such relative terms.) She pointed out in her TED talk that the phrase “me too” is hugely powerful to those struggling with shame (and this was years before the #metoo movement, but you can see why it was so applicable to destigmatizing assault survivors.)
Another key to quitting shame is the ever-repeated, but still ever-elusive self-love. When you feel shame, you are telling yourself you are a bad person, unworthy of love. How do you fight that statement? By showing that you *are* worthy of love by being loved, and getting that love from the hardest place to get it: yourself.
And a third step is to realize that what others may think of you has no bearing on you whatsoever. If your shameful secret is found out and you are judged, realize that is a reflection of the person judging you, not a reflection of you. Once you don’t take their judgments personally it will help remind yourself that you are not worthy of scorn, you are worthy of love.
A few years ago the term self-care appeared as a means of describing anything that a person does to take care of themselves, like getting a massage, meditating, going for a walk in nature, or taking a relaxing bath in essential oils. All of the above are great ways to improve your physical and emotional health; however, they are often used not as a way to improve health, but to undo the damage caused by underlying stresses and simply restore one’s previous level of health.
Take meditation. It’s a practice that has been used for millennia as a means of trying to reach an enlightened state. But what do we often use it for now? As a means to calm ourselves down after an argument with a significant other or a way to gain a glimpse of equanimity before what we know will be a tough day at work.
In the above instances, meditation isn’t being used to take us to a higher place, it’s being used to get us back to baseline. And then the next day, when our job or our toxic relationships drag us back into sadness or anxiety, we use it again to bring us back up.
This is akin to using Tylenol to treat cancer. Cancer causes pain, so we take Tylenol to relieve the pain. This treats only the symptoms and ensures that we’re going to have to take Tylenol again and again each time the pain arises.
How would we stop that cycle? By curing the cancer.
Similarly, you can’t massage away a bad job and you can’t journal away a toxic relationship. In both instances, you’re merely treating the symptoms.
What’s the cure? Quitting.
Quit the job that’s taken your sanity day after day. Quit the relationships that have led you to the negative self-talk that requires hours of journaling and meditation to sort out.
Because all of the above self-care tools are amazing in their own rights, but are so much more helpful in improving your physical and mental health if you’re starting from a more stable baseline — which requires taking a good look (often through journaling!) at what is disturbing your peace.
So next time something has you anxious or depressed, grab that journal and write down what led to that feeling. Then start analyzing whether the cause can be quit. You may need a job-ectomy, or to have some toxic friends surgically removed from your friend circle.
And after you do, be sure to light some candles, throw some essential oils in a bathtub, and meditate your way to enlightenment — free of whatever was holding you back!
Have you ever loved your job but been less than fond of the environment at your workplace? Sometimes it’s not the work we don’t love, it’s the culture that comes with that work.
This week’s guest, author Anshu Singh, loved her job in Silicon Valley – but after having her first child, she realized that the cutthroat, competitive environment there was no longer a good fit for the nurturing nature her new role as mother had uncovered.
What did she do? She packed up her entire family and created an entirely new life for herself in Bali where she helps people be more vital and healthy and connected with pleasure!
Find Anshu here:
If you happen to be feeling stuck in some area of your life, and may be contemplating a quit or wanting to learn more about strategic quitting, come hang out with me on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube, or check out my new book coming September 28! Enter your email on the home page to be notified of the pre-sale!
In addition, I’ve started taking on some private coaching clients, if you’d like to be one of them, click HERE to set up a call so we can dive deeply into your unique quit.
Also, I’d love to have you join us over in QUITOPIA, the facebook group for the few, the proud, the quitters, where I share more quitting related content and we can all interact and support each other through our quits.
One last thing – if you have an iPhone, or an iPad, or an i-Anything, and you find the info on Quit Happens to be valuable, I’d really appreciate it if you could leave a rating or a review. To do so, pull up the show in the Podcast app and then scroll to the bottom, and click on write a review. Giving the show a rating or review or sharing it with a friend all are great ways to help other people find the show so they too can get started quitting their way to a more fulfilling life.