Shame is the thief of authenticity the shadow that steals the joy inside your heart the darkness that whispers what makes you unworthy Shame is the fear of showing yourself the horror of what it will mean to be seen rejecting yourself before anyone else can a punishment for perceived imperfections a constant reminder that you are not enough Shame is worse than the reality it threatens the judgment of others only hurts so badly when it is a confirmation of what you believe shame is a mirror we place as a barrier our own vicious eyes cutting in
Opening myself up to others has never been one of my strong suits. Yet I know from experience, and many things I’ve read, that vulnerability is necessary in order to achieve true intimacy. This is exactly where my dilemma lies. I was fascinated by the realization I happened to stumble upon the other day surrounding this idea and how it has influenced my own life.
Sometimes I end up resenting and pushing away the people I most admire. I become frustrated by how much better I think they are than me. I paint this picture in my head of someone on a pedestal. So far above my strange little eccentricities and flaws that they could never possibly understand me. At first I feel embarrassed and unworthy of their attention and/or affection. I think to myself: well if they knew who I really was they wouldn’t want anything to do with me. Whether that’s really true or not, that thought eventually turns angry and I think: oh, fuck them then. I don’t need them anyway. I grow tired of pretending to be someone I’m not to maintain their approval. (Whether I even need to do so or not, remains unknown.) I either retreat myself or begin to push them away. This seems like a better option than what I view as the only other: that I am seen for who I really am and rejected.
I was running this problem over in my head the other day, when I began to wonder how I have any intimate relationships at all. I mean, of course there are plenty of people that I am able to be vulnerable with, people that I feel safe showing myself too. So what’s different about those relationships? I discovered that there are really only two ways I’ve been able to get close to someone in the past.
One way is when a person gets to know me before I decide I really give a damn about them or what they think of me. This happened more often when I was in high school and college. My first boyfriend knew all of my dirty little secrets before I fell in love with him or even became close friends with him just because we had classes together. In these instances, the fact that this casual acquaintance does not reject me for what they discover is extremely endearing to me. I begin to like them more because they’ve seen who I am and have not turned away, or perhaps even like me better for it. It feels so good to be seen. And I feel that they must be an exceptionally kind and compassionate person if they could still like me after truly seeing me.
The other way is when the other person is very outgoing and open. If they pour their heart out to me, I am usually so touched by their vulnerability and trust that I feel safe enough to offer my own. The closest people in my life have historically been extremely extroverted. Their bravery gives me the courage to open up. They also tend to ask me lots of probing questions, which I actually enjoy. Some people might find that rude, but I love nothing more than having someone ask me about myself or my experiences. I’m far too self-conscious to offer up that information willingly. So unless I’m directly asked, a lot of my life remains unknown to even my friends. Even if I desperately want them to know. I just feel too embarrassed to offer up unsolicited information about myself because I think no one would care.
So having noticed this pattern, how can I get close to someone who does not fall into either of these two categories? I am genuinely at a loss on that one. Not only am I too afraid to let this person find out too much about me and my past, they also don’t ask about it at all. Even if I wanted to tell them, I would have no idea how to bring it up besides just blurting it out randomly. And I don’t think that would be helpful even if I could muster up the courage to do it.
I’m not sure where this fear of being seen began. I cannot even remember a time where I was rejected for showing someone who I truly am. I’ve always been accepted and shown compassion. And each time this simple act of decency and kindness has touched me deeply. Each time I can hardly believe it, can hardly accept it, and feel certain that I don’t deserve it. Even though I know that I only end up liking someone more after they’ve shown me their flaws. I don’t love them despite these imperfections. I love them more because of their imperfections and the fact that they trusted me enough to share them with me.
I can’t seem to let go of this belief that I am not worthy of anyone else’s love until I am perfect. But that is obviously ridiculous. People don’t want someone who is “perfect.” (I certainly don’t.) People like other real, imperfect people far more. Consider the popularity of the anti-hero. Everyone loves a deeply troubled TV or movie character with redeeming qualities more than one who is infallible. Because no one is perfect. We see ourselves in the revealed shortcomings of others and we love them for it, as we can only hope others will love us for ours.
I am not being fair to myself or the people I hold dear by withholding and hiding these imperfect parts of myself. It’s not fair for me to breed resentment towards someone for my perception that they could never accept or understand me. Especially when I refuse to even give them the chance. I know deep down that I don’t have to be afraid. Certainly some people will reject me, but so many more have already embraced me and my flaws. Not only that, but by hiding myself away for fear of judgement, I am sending myself the message that I am not enough as I am, that I am unworthy of being seen and loved. And that’s not what I believe, not really. What I really believe is best summed up in the words of my favorite poet:
No matter how insignificant I may be, I believe I deserve to be loved.Federico Garcia Lorca
Change is scary. Especially when it’s unexpected. Sometimes even a good change can cause extreme levels of anxiety when it happens suddenly. Today I find myself struggling with that kind of change. All week I have been eagerly awaiting the weekend. I desperately needed a full day to rest and recharge. I have been feeling so overwhelmed and ungrounded. I was so happy that the weekend had finally arrived so that I could just relax and do some boring housework.
However, last night, out of nowhere, my boyfriend tells me that a few of his friends are going to drive down to the city near me tonight and wants us to hangout tomorrow. I felt my breath catch in my chest. I was filled with horror, dread, despair, and anger. How can he expect me to drop everything and see him on such short notice? How can I possibly get out of this? How can I mentally bear to go another full week with no chance to emotionally and energetically recover? I want to scream, to cry, to hide myself away, to disappear completely.
Amidst this already chaotic swirl of emotion I also felt immense guilt and shame for my involuntary reaction. The anger that I was initially directing outward at him for being “inconsiderate” was now turned back on myself for being so rigid and ungrateful. I was ashamed of my inflexible, violent nature. I couldn’t help thinking about the way a “normal” person would have reacted to the same surprise. An impromptu chance to see someone I love who I haven’t been able to be with in over a month? What an amazing opportunity! How fortunate! How exciting! That’s probably what most people would think. The layers of unwanted, uncomfortable emotions I was already feeling were condensed even more tightly around my heart by this realization and the guilt that it produced.
I spent all morning in a brutal battle with my own thoughts and feelings, arguing with myself, making excuses, imagining hateful words to spew at others and myself for the injustice of any inconvenience to my incredibly easy and privileged existence. My yoga class was undoubtably terrible earlier. I felt like a fraud, unworthy to lead my class with such a childish inner torrent raging inside of me. “None of this will matter at all next week, next month, next year.” I keep telling myself that. I keep reminding myself that at the end of my life, would I really be happy making a decision to sour this unexpected chance to be with my beloved simply because my house would have to remain uncleaned for yet another week? What is going to matter on my deathbed? Sundays spent in monotonous home maintenance or moments shared with those most important to me? Obviously the latter. So how can I still feel so unsafe inside?
Mental illness is not rational. That’s what it always comes down too. I can’t expect to explain away these feelings. I must make peace with the fact that logic and reason won’t make these thoughts and emotions go away. I have to accept them. I have to sit with them, watch them, get curious about them, learn from them. Instead of doing that, I busily flew around my house this morning trying to leave for my class on time after waking up late, planning a detailed message to send to my boyfriend. “You need to account for ‘x’ if you want ‘y’. I need this, this, and this, so I can be comfortable. These are all the ways in which you need to accommodate and tiptoe around my anxiety and OCD.”
Luckily I was too rushed to send anything until I had had a chance to calm down a bit. On my long drive to the studio, I had time to think. Is it really right for me to insist the people in my life enable me to continue on being enslaved to my unhealthy sense of control? Why should anyone else be burdened by these irrational “requirements”? That wouldn’t be good for them or for me. Once again, I was trying to mold the world into what I think it should be, to make every moment suit my personal preferences. I was placing the blame on the event (a sudden change of plans) instead of on my inner reaction (discomfort, anxiety, anger.) I can’t manipulate the world around me in a way that will shield me from these emotions. What I can do is learn how to tend to the emotions themselves.
Everything that we initially view as negative, irritating, or upsetting can ultimately be transformed in our mind into an opportunity for self study and inner growth. It’s easy to say that I want to be enlightened, that I want to find inner peace, but it’s much harder to be given the chance to cultivate that peace and enlightenment. It’s moments like these, the instances that cause avoidance and rejection to rise up inside of me, that are my greatest lessons, my greatest opportunities to practice being who I want to be.
Earlier this week, my friend at work accidentally dropped a mug on my favorite bowl and broke it. A few years ago, this would have devastated me. I may have even cried. Definitely would have harbored a silent anger and resentment toward my friend. Yet that day, after an initial jolt of disappointment and irritation, I saw an opportunity present itself. Instead of focusing on myself and my misfortune, my focus shifted to my friend. “She must feel so badly,” I thought with compassion. In that moment all I wanted was for her to know that I still felt nothing but love for her. That was what mattered, not an inanimate object.
Even though I’m not sure she fully believed me, I quickly told her that it was okay. I told her that I had been taught recently that we should perceive everything we have in this life as already being broken. That way we can enjoy it in the moment, and still be able to let it go when the time comes. I thanked her for giving me the chance to practice non-attachment and letting go. And I was thankful, surprisingly. I was even excited to witness the inner progress I had made. I genuinely wasn’t upset. I was actually eager to use this moment for my spiritual growth, to turn it into something much more valuable than a silly bowl.
Now I see that moment as preparation, a warm-up, for this weekend. Can I also practice letting go of my plans and the way I think things should be? Can I learn to embrace change instead of immediately rejecting it? Can I actively teach myself that I will be okay even when things don’t go the way I thought they would? These are all questions I have to ask myself today, ways in which I must now challenge myself. This weekend is a spiritual gift, even though it may not look like it right now.
I am going to be grateful. I choose to be grateful. I am going to stop being so upset with myself for the fact that it is a hard choice to make. Instead I am going to be proud of myself for even having the option. Not long ago, this choice wouldn’t have even been available to me. I would have been so lost in my immediate reaction that I would have completely missed this chance to shift perspective. Now thanks to my yoga practice and all the hard work I’ve been doing for years, I am able to see more clearly. I am more easily able to observe the storm inside myself without being sucked into it. The storm is still there, even as I write these words, but I’m going to sit with it for awhile, with compassion, with empathy, with curiosity, and with love.
It’s a frustrating thing to desperately want connection, while also fearing the very connection you crave. At this point in my life the fear seems to be much greater than the desire. It’s almost as if I’d rather be alone than risk rejection. My fear is so daunting that it seems easier to just turn away. I give up on myself far too easily.
The event that has spurred this particular introspection happened at work yesterday. Someone my organization works with began trying to set me up with his son. I genuinely like the man, and his son seems very nice. At first I was pretty excited. I find meeting people in these types of ways normally works out better than meeting someone online. I was also quite flattered that he would consider me a good match for his son.
However, once things got real and I actually began messaging back and forth with this new guy, the fear started to set in. What if I don’t like him? I can’t ghost him. I can’t let things end in an awkward or immature way like I usually do. His dad would end up hating me! What if he doesn’t like me? What if he discovers all the weird, gross, irritating stuff about me and tells his father?! I immediately began regretting putting myself in this position. The fear easily overtook any excitement I felt initially. To be frank, I feel like any eventuality besides us falling in love and being together forever will end in complete disaster and immense embarrassment and awkwardness for me at work. And let’s be honest, how likely is it that any relationship of mine will end well? I don’t have a very good track record in that department.
Despite being petrified, I’m trying to find a good spin to put on the situation in my head. Part of me thinks: Okay, this will be a good thing. Either way, I’ll be forced into learning how to behave like an adult. I’ll be forced to be a good, responsible person. I will not have the option of just disappearing this time to avoid confrontation. I’ll have to be honest with this boy and myself. I’ll also be less likely to immediately write him off for trivial things like I normally do with potential partners. I’ll have genuine motivation to make this work out. I mean, it would be amazing to some day be a part of that coworker’s family.
But there I go again, getting WAY too ahead of myself. I can never seem to just relax and let things play out on their own. I immediately start dissecting all the potential problems that could occur years into the future. It’s psychotic. And even after calming my anxiety about all of the reasons I may not like him, I still haven’t gotten to the possibility that I do like him. Perhaps he won’t like me. Who could blame him? I’m the worst.
There are so many things about myself that I would be mortified to expose to anyone else. There are so many aspects of myself that I feel like I need to work on before I could ever ask anyone to consider me as a romantic partner. However, will I ever feel good enough? Maybe this is a good chance to find the motivation to work on those parts of myself. It is always more appealing to me when I feel I am improving myself with someone else in mind.
I suppose it’s too late to turn back now. I’ll just have to do my best and hope it turns out okay in the end. I’m going to have to just forget about all the reasons this could be awful and focus on the reasons it could be fun. I have to learn to believe in myself. I have to believe that I am a good person. That I am worthwhile. That I can do this…