Maybe the title of this post pissed you off. It pisses me off, and that’s how I really knew I needed to write this post. Usually when I have really big emotional reactions to something, I know it is worth exploring.
Shame is an issue that is getting a little more attention thanks to Brene Brown’s research and books. After reading her books and listening to a few of her lectures, I have been more aware of the shame that I carry and when I am feeling shamed.
I want to make sure we fully explore the shame that comes with being single, so I want to define what shame is. Shame is different than guilt because of how we internalize it. She is the feeling we get when something is wrong, and we think we are flawed, inadequate or unworthy. We think we are not living up to other people’s standards.
Shame is conquered by empathy. When we put ourselves in someone else’s shoes (or they put themselves in ours) then we are brought together and reminded that not only are we all the same, but we understand the feeling and it doesn’t make anyone unworthy.
Reading Brene Brown’s book Daring Greatly is part of what inspired me to write this blog and to write the way that I do. I realized the power of vulnerability, and the importance of more people stepping up to say “This is who I am. I am proud of who I am, I love myself.” Ever since I read it, I have been working on my own vulnerability, putting myself out there as myself and I have been receiving some great support in return.
Anyway, I wanted to write about shame, not vulnerability. Perhaps that will be another day.
The shame of being single kicks in when you are at a family event, most recently for me it was my cousin’s daughter’s birthday. My cousin, meaning well because she was guilty that I have bought her kids countless gifts now, asks “When are you going to have kids so you can start having these parties?” Like a punch in the gut, I tried to laugh it off with “Well, I’d have to find a guy first…” Maybe it’s the way your mom is always trying to set you up with someone because “she just wants to see you settled and happy.”
I felt single shame this weekend when the weather was finally beautiful and I went walking down to a funky neighborhood. And then I realized all the couples had the same idea, and gosh darn they were cute. It wasn’t jealousy, it was shame that I was alone in the furniture store and what right did I have to be nesting?
Shame is tricky because it sneaks in, nestles up to you and gets cozy for awhile. It can cause a shame spiral where you stay in on a Saturday night cuddling with a dog because “everyone is out having a good time and you weren’t invited.” Not that this has ever happened to me, or anything.
The first step is acknowledging that the shame is there. It’s important to have someone that you can rely on to listen and hold space for you when you are feeling in shame. It is not their job to pull you out, it’s their job to listen while holding space.
Let me take a moment on holding space. This was a new concept for me when I heard about it and then I realized it’s something I’ve always wanted and didn’t know what to call it. Holding space is when you come to a person with a problem and they don’t respond with the knee jerk reaction or with a solution. They just listen. It’s like when you go to a standing room only concert and you go to the bar while someone holds your space till you get back. They make themselves bigger and spread their arms and legs to hold your space. This is what a good friend does. Just keeping the space for you, and you can do whatever you want to do in the space (such as cry, whine, scream, etc) and it is perfectly ok to do so. They will keep holding that space.
So when you’re in shame, know who your person is that you can call and identify the problem (“I’m feeling some shame right now.”), and they will hold space so you can talk through it. Often you will identify what’s wrong and why you’re feeling shame and saying it out loud will allow you to start feeling empathy for yourself. Your friend, being the good friend that she is, will also feel empathy for you. Usually all it takes is “I know how that feels, I’ve been there.”
And that’s the thing about empathy. We’re relating about feelings, not experiences. I don’t have many single friends so they probably don’t know the feeling of shopping alone in a furniture store among a bunch of couples. But they know what it feels like to feel singled out and alone.
Shame can knock you down to your knees. We all feel it. Men, women, teachers, parents, you name it. It can knock the wind and the confidence right out of us.
I have given so much thought on this topic, and almost didn’t post this. In fact I wrote it two weeks ago and just let it sit. I have more to say, but it is a completely different tone. This post is going to be a two-parter, so stay tuned…