Sharing my last post, Trauma and How the Body Keeps the Score, was initially humiliating. To describe myself as panic-stricken after clicking publish would be an understatement. I felt as though I’d paraded my flawed, naked body through the town square while chanting, “Shame, shame, shame…” (Any Game of Thrones fans out there?) As I mustered the courage to peek at feedback, I was lost for words. You showed up. You reciprocated your painful stories with me, however relative you thought they might be. My embarrassment waned. The swelter of disgrace lifted. And I read the subliminal message loud and clear: vulnerability is key to how we release shame.
If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can’t survive.-Brené Brown
Few of us have gotten this far without experiencing some form of trauma. We’re hesitant to share because our shame tells us vulnerability is unwelcome as it displays how abnormal and unworthy we are. By the same token, this raw societal shift we’re experiencing is spawning a craving for connection. The catch-22 is, authentic connection can’t happen without vulnerability.
Unworthiness | How to Release Shame
Most survivors of trauma lose any reference of what normal means. We assume normal must equal perfection — and anything less is unacceptable. We feel guilty about everything. If we show any level of self-care, we feel guilty. If someone trips over their own foot, we feel guilty. Our shame and guilt is on overdrive, haphazardly painting us as unworthy to ourselves.
Adding an extra layer to an already complex internal dialogue, we project our shame onto others. “They see I’m damaged.” “They think I’m unworthy.” “They recognize I don’t fit in.” “I could be the most loyal friend they’ll ever have–but they think I’m unworthy, so screw them. I’m better off alone.”
I never realized the intense weight of distrust I carried. I prided myself as hyper intuitive when it came to decoding another person’s character. The subconscious dilemma was my inability to distinguish between intuition guiding me and trauma misleading me. I’ve misread so many people’s behaviors, sadly robbing myself of much deeper connections.
Vulnerability | How to Release Shame
I think most of us feel alone in our struggles. We form friendships at superficially comfortable depths, but few know us on a rough-hewn level. We scroll through each other’s shiny social media personas and dismiss any idea there could be cracks in our ostensibly charmed and carefully filtered lives.
Try for a moment to conceptualize an unmasked culture bathed in vulnerability. How refreshing would it be to chisel away the pretentious noise and validate how much we actually mirror one other’s perfectly flawed humanness?
My most cherished friendships developed with reciprocal vulnerability. Being messy, bruised, and imperfect creates a space where others feel safe to be themselves, too. Vulnerability is the bridge to authentic connection.
Funny thing is, I feel this in my bones, but I still find myself struggling to trust women. It’s not my best look. It’s a hardwired challenge to trust a woman when the one woman I was born to trust wounded me so deeply.
Control | How to Release Shame
When Cadillac (my nickname for my mother, explained in Trauma and How the Body Keeps the Score) married the second of four — potentially five — husbands, we moved to a small town where I knew no one. Suddenly, I had two stepsisters and a stepbrother. The eldest stepsister had run away, her whereabouts unknown. The stepbrother lived with his mother and we never saw him. The second stepsister was especially close to her dad and clearly did not want Cadillac or me near him.
Cadillac was not a particularly clean person. After we moved into the stepfather’s house, she suddenly became fixated on keeping things spic and span. She treaded lightly around her stepdaughter so as not to further fracture her already toxic one-month marriage. That meant housekeeping was allotted to me.
I was eleven. Lonely, anxious, severely depressed, and most likely anorexic, I ate one-half sandwich and drank one-half glass of 7-Up each day. I had been pulled away from grandparents who loved me and reduced to nothing more than domestic child labor. I’d lost everything. Regulating food was the only control I had. This control was twisted bliss.
Housekeeping | How to Release Shame
The stepfather’s master bathroom had a large mirror with a gilded frame hanging over the sink. The crevices were splattered with toothpaste. Cadillac handed over a new toothbrush and a container of Comet and directed me to remove all the toothpaste from the ornate frame.
In a brief moment of protest, I rolled my eyes. And with that, Cadillac death-gripped the base of my skull, shoved my face into the mirror causing it to distort, and with clenched teeth and the tone of insanity spewed, “Look at you. You look just like him.“
I resemble both my parents. Those who know Cadillac say I’m her spitting image. Those who know my dad, say I look just like him. Obviously, Cadillac believes the latter. “You could have accomplished so much more in life if you’d only gotten that nose job,” she often tormented. It’s valid to note, she’d gotten two.
When your parent judges you in disdain as a child, you realize the person who is supposed to protect you at all costs, is not on your side. This charts our relationships throughout life. When society later judges you as an adult, you feel even more deeply painted into a self-preservation corner. Vulnerability and connection are approached, if at all, with extreme caution.
It no longer matters what Cadillac thinks of me within her warped reality. Her venom has begun to neutralize since I chose to vulnerably share these hideous truths. –The compassion, trust, and grace you’ve gifted me has no doubt nursed these wounds, too.
Compassion | How to Release Shame
I thought I’d share a few of the healing notes some of you wrote in response to Trauma and How the Body Keeps the Score. Each message is vulnerable and beautifully altruistic. –Out of respect for privacy, I removed any identifiable details.
I’M AT A LOSS FOR WORDS. I AM TRULY BLESSED TO HAVE CROSSED PATHS WITH YOU. YOUR BLOG TOUCHED MY SOUL. I NEVER THOUGHT I WOULD MEET ANYONE WHO COULD TRULY KNOW WHAT I’VE BEEN THROUGH AND WHO WOULD UNDERSTAND IT. I FEEL SO CONNECTED TO YOU AND YOUR WORDS. THANK YOU FOR BEING OPEN AND SHARING YOUR JOURNEY.
I CRIED AS I READ YOUR STORY. YOUR TRUTH. TEARS FOR WHAT YOU WENT THROUGH AND BECAUSE IT RESONATED SO LOUDLY WITH ME. I’VE NEVER HAD THE COURAGE TO WRITE ABOUT MINE. I SUFFER FROM CHRONIC BACK AND NECK PAIN, CHRONIC FATIGUE, AND FIBROMYALGIA. MY TRAUMA LED TO PERFECTIONISM, DEPRESSION, SUICIDAL THOUGHTS, AND A TEN YEAR BATTLE WITH BULIMIA. THANK YOU FOR SHARING AND CONNECTING THE DOTS.
YOUR STORY SHOULD BE TOLD. HOPEFULLY, YOU WILL HAVE THE WILL TO WRITE A BOOK. WE COULD SPEND WEEKS TALKING ABOUT ALL THE THINGS WE WERE HIDING [AS KIDS] BACK THEN. YOU HID ALL OF THIS PERFECTLY. AND I’M SORRY FOR THAT. WE WERE FAR MORE ALIKE THAN WE REALIZED.
I WAS MARRIED TO A MALIGNANT NARCISSIST FOR YEARS. I STILL SUFFER FROM PTSD. COMPASSION IS KEY. I THINK WE’RE ALL STARVING FOR IT. YOUR TIMING COULDN’T HAVE BEEN BETTER TO SHOW WHAT THAT LOOKS LIKE. THANK YOU, DEAR JULIE, FOR YOUR POST, STRENGTH, COMPASSION, AND GENEROUS SERVICE TO YOUR FRIENDS AND FOLLOWERS. YOU ARE SO SPECIAL.
I WAS UNDER THE IMPRESSION LITTLE WHITE GIRLS DIDN’T GROW UP WITH THESE KINDS OF CHILDHOOD NIGHTMARES. I THOUGHT IT WAS ONLY US. WE NEVER KNOW WHAT PEOPLE ARE GOING THROUGH. MAYBE I’LL share MY STORY ONE DAY, TOO. GOD, YOU ARE A BRAVE SOUL.
YOUR POST WAS AN INCREDIBLE TOUR DE FORCE! IT WAS INSPIRING AND EMPOWERING TO ALL OF US WHO READ IT. EVEN THOSE WHO DIDN’T HAVE THAT SORT OF TRAUMA AND ABUSE. WE LOVE YOU FOR WRITING IT AND WE SUPPORT YOU! KEEP IT UP!
ALTHOUGH I DON’T CARRY CHILDHOOD TRAUMA, I’VE GOT SOME HEFTY ADULT WEIGHTS BEARING DOWN ON ME IN SIMILAR WAYS. I ADORE YOU, JULIE. AND HAVE ALWAYS VIEWED YOU AS A KINDRED SPIRIT. KEEP WRITING. IT HELPS SO, SO MUCH.
WOW, JULIE. YOUR BLOG IS SO POWERFUL AND I KNOW IT IS GOING TO HELP SO MANY PEOPLE. YOU ARE SO VERY BRAVE! SO MUCH LOVE FOR YOU AND YOUR JOURNEY. KEEP SPEAKING YOUR TRUTH!
I can attest, as the cloud of shame begins to evaporate, we realize it’s our exposed rawness that cultivates the trust, fellowship, and respect necessary to release the shame. I may be late to the vulnerability party, but I’m here. And you’re invited! This is one party we should all allow ourselves to be the life of. –xo