I didn’t realize that writing about this subject would open me up and expose that shame is still lurking in my cells. It feels like once it gets inside the cell walls – it’s stuck in there and threatens to multiply and take over. Perfectionism is where it shows up in me.
Perfectionism is an addiction like drugs, alcohol, gluttony, and frantic busyness (or whatever yours may be) and shame is what fuels it underneath. Shame drives it! What is your medication of choice? What I mean by that is this: What do you use to numb and run from the pain in your story? Whatever means you choose – underneath it is shame.
Shame is an attack on your identity. Shame is dark and evil because it speaks into who you are, whereas guilt is about what you have done. There is no good shame. Shame says, “you are bad,” “you are ugly,” “you are worthless.” Shame’s goal is to destroy your identity.
“With shame, something other than love is driving you. You are hustling for your worth.” Brene Brown
I can tell when I’ve gotten back into hustling for my worth because there is no space for presence, and my feelings and emotions shut down. There was a point several years after my son died that I thought I was coming to a new place in my grief journey because I wasn’t “feeling” anything. But as I searched further inside myself, I realized I was back to hustling and working the perfection game. That’s why we choose addiction because it numbs the pain. It has been interesting watching my grief journey. How my perfectionism will kick in and I am numb for a while. And then I realized I missed missing Ryan. And so, I would choose to wake up again; say no to shame and try to show compassion to myself over the complicated process of grief and be willing to hurt.
Brene Brown encourages, “Most of us numb to ‘take the edge off’ vulnerability, pain and discomfort. When we stop numbing and those sharp edges come back into our lives, we see how leaning into the discomfort of vulnerability teaches us how to live with joy, gratitude and grace. Feeling the struggle gives me the courage to change what’s happening and practice gratitude for what’s going well (even if I have to look hard for it). Feeling the joy gives me the strength and perspective to move forward, out of the dark.”
As I am considering this blog post, some of the notes I am drawing from, are journals from three years ago. As I read and began to write, I realized that I was getting emotional, feeling anxiety and my current level of perfectionism was being revealed. There are always more layers in the onion – always more to unpack, look at, extend compassion to, and to let go of. Always. Bummer.
I decided I needed to do some unpacking. Looking back to my childhood, what was driving my perfectionism? Shame. But what’s driving the shame? Fear. Fear of messing up; fear of abandonment. If I don’t do enough, or don’t do it “right” enough, I will be abandon. I will be alone. I was told that in many ways as a child. “Do what you are told to do, or someone will be hurt.” “If you don’t perform well enough or if you refuse, others will suffer.” “If you tell, people will be wounded; your family will suffer.” “Obedience is your only hope of not being abandon and alone or worse.” But shame doesn’t need such toxic messages to find its way in. There are many seemingly benign messages that usher shame into our thinking.
Letting go of perfectionism? How is that possible when obedience was forced by fear and pain into every cell of my body?
I met God for the first time as a young teen. He found me in prison – not a prison made by bars and locks but a prison set up by fear. I was so ready to obey anything God asked of me. I was programed to. God’s words in the Bible were telling me, “ If you obey, you will be safe.” Everything inside me was full in. I had hope. Protection. God is bigger than evil. The Words I read promised that the one thing I knew how to do – obey – was what He required for protection and safety. A flawed view, I know. But to a little girl looking for a way out of hell – looking for someone to save and rescue her – I latched on tight and for life.
But as I grew older, my faith, love and trust of God grew on that distorted foundation. All that was in me rested on the promise of protection and security and I continued my commitment to obedience. It was my survival strategy. All of us, in childhood, come up with a survival strategy. Our ego takes on the job quite willingly, and we come up with our own plan. Usually, it is skewed because we are children responding to our confusing, wounding world. Enneagram speaks into this in detail and is a beautiful and helpful way to see our survival strategies and learn about how to turn those to be healthy and life giving. (Do yourself a favor and look up Enneagram!)
But as the years progressed, “obedience” as my M.O. was cemented into my cells. Perfectionism. It was camouflaged by acts of service, working hard, keeping busy, and caring for my world. The knowledge of what was driving me and where it was birthed was lost and hidden from my consciousness. Richard Rohr shares, “When you don’t want self-knowledge – you don’t want to face your shadow self. You don’t want to see the dark side that we all have. For too long the spirituality of perfection has caused us to split and pretend that we are always and only good. You pay a big price when you put all your energy into keeping such a heavy lid on the unconscious.”
And then something happens in our lives: a tragedy, death of a loved one, loss of a career, a chronic illness, some life crisis that is an invitation to wake up and begin looking at the complex onion that we are with all our layers. An invitation to observe our addictions and to start digging – to be brave – to stare shame in the face and say “NO!” To say, “I will no longer allow shame to destroy my identity. I will say “Yes!” to God restoring my original purpose and intended beauty. We are all made in the image of God – in the image of Love. Choose to let love drive you.
Choosing to lift the lid on the unconscious and wake up is not easy and takes courage. But it is where we can be fully alive. Here is one place you can begin: self-compassion. It can be found within good self-care, like having good margins with our time, taking naps, or getting a massage. But I think where the real power comes is in how we talk to ourselves. What does your self-talk inside your head sound like? That reveals a lot. While shame wants to destroy you – you can change how you speak to yourself and what/whom you allow to speak to you.
Numbing is shutting myself down. Actually saying to myself, “I won’t feel what you are feeling. You are on your own. I will NOT be with you.”
Comfort yourself. Actually extending grace, love, forgiveness and mercy to yourself. Actually saying to yourself, “I WILL feel what I am carrying in my heart and body. It is real. The pain is real and to shut it down is to abandon myself. I am here. I am sad that this hurts.”
Spend some time each day, casting out shame and inviting in compassion and grace. It is helpful to choose a time or a few moments when you are doing a daily chore when you know you can focus and speak this message to yourself. I chose each morning while I am standing filling water troughs at my horse barn. Being still, taking note of your breath, breathe shame out of every cell of your body and send it out of this world. And then breathe in compassion and grace to come in and fill every cell of your body.
It is important to compassionately observe yourself. Listen to the self-talk that goes on inside your head. Are you beating yourself up? Do you degrade yourself? Do you constantly judge yourself? That is shame talking. Cast it out. Be tough with the shame, but extremely gentle with you. Everyone on the planet was made in the image of God. Including you. You are his dwelling place. He is in everything he has made. He loves it all. Look at Genesis chapter one. Not only does he love you, but he has partnered with you to love everyone and everything else. Right now as you are reading this, what are your thoughts? If they are negative and you are feeling like God is crazy to partner with you, take note of it. Now, don’t beat yourself up. Just listen to how you speak to yourself and then choose to extend compassion and mercy. I have done this practice, and found myself in tears as I received compassion formyself,frommyself! I was so surprised that I had the power to bless my heart. And you know what? As Richard Rohr reminds me, “how you love yourself, is how you will love everything else.” As you practice compassion and mercy to yourself, it will spill over onto everyone around you! And voilà, the world is a better place!