I was at the mall recently with my four-year-old. There was a college student playing the piano. He played effortlessly. He was playing a plethora of genres: John Legend to Disney movie songs to pop. My daughter said, “This music makes me want to dance!” I said, “Go for it!” There’s an open area with green turf out of the walkers’ way that is perfect for congregating, or, in this case, dancing. She crinkled her brow and sheepishly said, “I can’t. What if people see me?” I nonchalantly said, “It would certainly be a waste of amazing music not to dance.” So, with big grin, she began twirling and laughing. Then she looked at me and said, “You too, Mom.” I immediately felt my pulse and my throat tightening. I thought, “Oh gosh, what if people are watching or judging?” Then the other part of me said, “Eat your words, Melissa. You just encouraged your daughter to do precisely what she feared.” So, I rationalized. We’re not hurting anyone, and I get to play with my daughter. I held her finger as she twirled, and she held mine as I twirled. For just a few moments, there was not a care in the world.
When did we stop living and dancing like a four-year-old? When did we shift our focus from having child-like fun to caring about the opinions of others? Allowing our fear of what others think of us, holding back our belly laugh, and caging our spirit, we become shackled to shame. Author and Researcher Brené Brown wrote that “Shame is how we see ourselves through other people’s eyes…(and) forces us to put so much value on what other people think that we lose ourselves in the process of trying to meet everyone else’s expectations.” These expectations then dominate who, what and how we should be.
I don’t remember exactly the day/time I allowed shame to override my dance. I know that it was gradual. After a while, the comments just added up and it became like death by a thousand paper cuts. Can you remember the words, actions, and phrases that cut you to your core? All of the ‘nots’: “You’re not good enough, smart enough, strong enough, tall enough, thin enough, pretty enough, rich enough.” Maybe the hurtful rhetoric was about your gender, race, age, marital status or your ability to sexually perform. How about your parenting or profession?
We’ve all been affected by shame. People who have been shamed either continue the cycle of shaming or making it their mission to live with empathy and compassion. Where are you needing validation in your life? Where do you need to feel whole? Sometimes we just need someone to say, “Absolutely, I feel that way!” or “That happens to me too!” We need to feel normalized and validated. Do you have a partner or a friend who can be that reliable person for you? I encourage you to reach out when you feel like you’re walking around anxious and exposed like a turtle without its shell. We are human beings in need of connection. However, we need a loving connection. “If you put shame in a Petri dish, it needs three things to grow exponentially: secrecy, silence and judgment. If you put the same amount of shame in a Petri dish and douse it with empathy, it can't survive,” says Dr. Brene Brown in a follow-up to her Ted talk on vulnerability. Let’s expose shame for what it is. One way we can overcome it is to “Dance like no one is watching, Sing like no one is listening, Love like you’ve never been hurt, and Live like heaven on earth.” Another way is to talk with a therapist about addressing shame areas in your life that are holding you back from your passion and your greatest self.
Quote from Brené Brown “I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn’t): Making The Journey From ‘What Will People Think?’ to ‘I Am Enough”.