Vulnerability and Shame

Shame isn’t a new topic for me. As a sexual abuse survivor it is a feeling that I am all too familiar with. For many years I felt an immense amount of shame over what had happened to me, as if I were some how responsible for the action. I worked hard to no longer feel the same level of shame as I once did though I am sure I still have remnants left deep down inside.

I hadn’t really thought about shame until I watched a motivational speech by Brenè Brown, Ph.D., LMSW is a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work.

One of the messages in her speech was this idea that shame was the unspoken reason behind people not connecting to others. Brown had extensively studied shame by interviewing hundreds of people. She found a distinctive difference between those who had as strong sense of love and belonging, and those who struggled with it. The only variable she found was that those who have a strong sense of love and belonging, believe they are worthy of love and belonging.

She goes on to say that the fear of not being worthy of connection, keeps us from connecting to others. That if others see or know our vulnerabilities and imperfections deep inside us then we won’t be worthy of connection.

Those who fully embrace vulnerability are the ones who able to live their lives more whole heatedly.

The group that Dr. Brown studied that lived their lives with a sense of belonging had three main attributes; Courage, Compassion and Connection.

They had the courage to tell their story of who they are with their whole heart. They had the courage to be imperfect. They also had the compassion to be kind to themselves first, then to others next. Finally they had connection. They are able to connect due in part to their own authenticity.  They have been able to let go who they think they should be and be their authentic selves.

Brenè Brown also stated that vulnerability is at the core of shame, fear and struggle for worthiness… As well as the birthplace of joy, belonging, creativity and love…

Those try to deflect the vulnerability do so by numbing out the feelings, which is something I am very familiar with. She went on to say that when you numb all the unwanted feelings and vulnerability, you also numb out all the good feelings like joy, happiness, love, etc. You can’t selectively numb feelings. Eventually numbing out vulnerability turns into a very dangerous cycle.

During her speech she talks about finding out why and how we numb?

She also talked about the persistent need to make everything that is uncertain certain. Another thing I can relate to. The unknown has always scared me. Rather than face it head on, I usually avoid it like the plague. I pretend that it does not exist. Almost always the avoidance comes back to haunt me, even bigger and scarier than ever before. To the point where I don’t have a choice but to deal with it.

I have repeated the same cycle so many times that my the wheels on my stationary bike have blown, causing me to catapult off the stand and crash into the nearby wall. You can only repeat the same thing over so many times before even you get tired of the repetitiveness.

Hearing Brenè Brown speak really resonated with me deeply on many different levels and issues. So much that millions of little light bulbs kept igniting as I watch her speech on my phone and ever since then my mind has been in gear thinking deeply about shame, vulnerability  being seen and everything else in between.

All of these topics are core issues that I have dealt with most of my life, certainly all my adult life. Connection is something I yearn for but it is also something that I am most fearful of.

There was a time when I didn’t believe that I was worthy of love and belonging. These feelings were so deep and torturous that the negativity seeped out into my personal life. Probably the happiest I have ever been was when I lived in Chicago from 2004-2oo5. All my life I had been searching for deep connection and I finally found it.

It was also the first time I started look at the core of the sexual and spiritual abuse. These two years were some of the best and worst times in my life.

I finally had the group of friends that I was able to connect with on a spiritual level. I had the most friends I had ever had. I was living the life I had always dreamed of.  I also had a great job with the most wonderful boss ever. Someone who saw me for who I was and the strengths I possessed. On top of that I had an amazing therapist who was more like a mentor to me. I was able to see a glimpse of happiness and who I was meant to be but it was all too much.

I let fear and shame take a hold of me causing me to run. I ran like the wind, fast and far. Ever since then I would take small steps into the light to only get scared back into the dark. I couldn’t handle the vulnerability because I didn’t realize that they were actually my strengths.

All this time I believed the opposite of what was true. The biggest lie was that I didn’t deserve love or happiness. I internalized the abuse and took it on, and became it. I thought there was a reason why someone like me who had a pure heart would get abused/hurt. In my head I had convinced myself that someone who is good/pure wouldn’t be abused. That only bad children are sexually and spiritually abused. I didn’t realize that bad things happen to good children all the time. Early on I developed this belief that I wasn’t worthy of love, care or belonging. All I was worthy of was abuse, pain and hate.

Vulnerability scares me, frightens me to the core. Getting hurt leaves you very vulnerable. When you have it happen a number of times you start to fear vulnerability. You do everything you can to avoid getting hurt, even if it means not finding happiness. It is better to go without, then potentially get hurt right? That is what I thought for years. For years I lived in fear. Stayed in isolation over the fear of getting hurt again. It felt like one more heart break would send me over the edge. What I didn’t realize that living a life without risk also kept me from the one thing I needed, and that being love.

So granted I wasn’t getting hurt anymore but I found myself just as miserable, if not even more.

The problem is that I have been running for over 18 years from city to city. I have stopped running but I am left with very little. I have very little to my name. I have friends all over the country and over 300 Facebook friends but very few that I see frequently in person. I miss the connection.

Losing my Mama has taught me how fragile life is and not to take anything for-granted. I still am fearful and isolating but I want to change. A dear friend of mine who I met during my Mom’s struggle with Cancer recently was hospitalized. I found myself in this frozen fearful state. I was so afraid of losing her.

Other than my close immediate family I haven’t gotten close to many people because I am so afraid of losing them. I still fear that, especially after my Mama dying. I now realize that staying away for that reason only leaves you with regret when something does happen and they are physically taken away by death.

I am learning to embrace vulnerability and am coming to realize that its apart of life. I am also realizing that vulnerability will not kill me like I previously had felt. Vulnerability is also something that can’t be controlled.

Sharing my story on this blog makes me feel very vulnerable but I know that it is important to share my heart with the world. I know what it is like to experience what I have and to feel you are alone. I know that there are so many who continue to go through what I have. I can bring something good to my bad experiences. Being my authentic self will help liberate others by having the courage to do so as well.

Like Brown says, vulnerability is the birthplace of joy, belonging, creativity and love…

It really is. I have lived over twenty years of not being the real me. I can’t do it anymore. I have to let my wings out and fly free. I finally realize that I have a bright light within, that was meant to shine… not hide in a box buried deep within…

I recently formed this friendship with this wonderful caring man. He has brought me great joy the past few months of getting to know him. He intellectually stimulates me deeply. It has been very refreshing to have someone of the same sex find you interesting and not have it related to sex at all… I know that he sees me for who I am on the inside, and not the outside. I wonder if he realize how much a gift that is to me? For someone who is a sexual abuse survivor it is huge to have a man that sees my heart… It has also been really nice to form a deep friendship with someone and not have my mind go right to sex. When we are together we can talk for hours. Whenever he leaves, I have this feeling that I don’t want him to leave… That is how much I enjoy his company. I can’t remember the last time a man made me feel this way.

Yes, this new friendship has brought up a lot of vulnerabilities. A few we have actually talked about. I was for sure that he would run for the hills but he didn’t.

I am learning to just live in the moment and enjoy my time with him.

That is another thing I have learned by losing my Mama. Life is too short to sweat the small stuff… That is why the grieving process has been so difficult because I want nothing to go out into the world and live life… but I still find myself so frozen in fear.

The difference is I am allowing myself to feel the vulnerable. I am trying hard to not numb out my feelings. Granted I do still occasionally do so with food but I am learning to overcome even that. I keep moving forward, even if it is one small step at a time.

I am letting people in. I am also reaching out to people as well. I am allowing myself to be seen. These are just a few of the recent changes for me.

Being a sexual abuse survivor being seen can be quite the terrifying experience. Dissociating from difficult situations became a coping skill early on and I find myself dissociating from difficult situations in the present. There have been times that I needed to be seen but felt invisible… and then times I wanted to be invisible when I had no place to hide. As an adult I need to realize that I am no longer in that unhealthy situation. I no longer have to hide. I think part of the reason why I hide in the darkness because it was when I was in the light that I was hurt so deeply.

It is very easy to get chained down by your past. No matter how hard you try to out run it or hide, it always seems to find you. I haven’t been able to move on because I haven’t allowed my time to process it. I just kept on running. I finally have realized that my problems always follow me wherever I go. I didn’t allow my wounds to heal, I just covered them up with a bunch of weight. I must open my wounds back up, and allow the pain to seep out. Only then will I be able to finally heal and move on. I have to stick around and bear the uncomfortable, and all the vulnerable feelings that surface. Granted there are days I just want to run, I realize that I have to stick it out…

Which is what I am doing with the grieving process. While the past two months have been filled full of crippling grief, I still have hope.

During our time in Nashville we encountered so many amazing people. My eyes were opened up to see that there are caring people left in this world. I have a place in this world.

For the longest time I didn’t feel I could show people my gifts and abilities, over the fear they would be scared. I also have stopped believing that my strengths are weaknesses.

Yes in life there is a lot of things that are uncertain. Losing my Mama didn’t help with that but I realize these are things that I can’t control. There are no guarantees in life, so we have no other choice but to live our lives to the fullest.

I am learning to do that one moment at a time while embracing the many vulnerabilities and imperfections that life has to offer.

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Marianne Williamson

I have played small due to the insecurities of others around me, and have learned the hard way that it doesn’t serve anyone. Ms. Williamson is correct that it is my light that frightens me the most. We are all children of God. We are all meant to shine. I have been liberated by others who let their lights shine so courageously. Who are you not to be fabulous, talented, brilliant, gorgeous and everything wonderful that life has to offer?

And as Walt Disney said:

I am going to (We) keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.

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