Since reading Daring Greatly – How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brene Brown* I’ve started to notice even more how people talk to themselves down over and over again. And since I spend most of my time training clients in a gym, this negative self talk is most often related to one’s body and self-image.
“I am fat/weak/bad/” or insert any other negative adjective. These are some common sentences that I hear every day. It’s what Brown calls shame-talk and something that has a very negative consequences to our self-worth and well-being.
Think how would you feel if your friend would tell you each day what a failure you are or how fat you are. Essentially this is what self blaming shame-talk is. It is you telling yourself that you are not worth it, that you are not good enough.
You might use shame as a motivation thinking that is what pushes you to conquer your goals. Yet research shows very clearly that shame’s influence is destructive with no positive outcomes whatsoever.
Shame is highly correlated with addiction, depression and eating disorders, just to mention few. It keeps us small, resentful and afraid.
Shame can also make us rationalize or blame our actions on others: I ate a family size pack of ice cream because “it was Friday”, “I was stressed”, “it was my friend’s fault”, “it was full moon”. Shame will try to justify the actions we took.
However, when we accept our actions and take ownership, guilt is usually the driving force – not shame. And no matter how uncomfortable it feels, it will also be helpful as the psychological discomfort is what motivates a meaningful change. Guilt’s influence is positive, unlike shame which is destructive. Brown’s research shows that shame corrodes the part that believes we can change and do better. Not a very good long-term motivator is it.
Here’s how shame and guilt are different. Shame: “I am bad”, guilt: “I made a bad choice”.
So we have to build what Brown calls “shame-resilience”, it’s about finding a middle path, it allows us to stay engaged and to find the emotional courage we need to respond in a way that aligns with our values. Check the expectations that are driving your shame. Are they realistic and attainable. Are you doing it because of what society “expects” from you or are you doing it because that’s what you value.
In her book Brown also tells us to live “wholeheartedly”, to engage in our lives from a place of worthiness. She goes on to give us ten definitions of what living wholeheartedly means; I find #2 important when it comes to self-talk: cultivate self-compassion and let go of perfectionism. It’s about healthy striving that is self-focused: how can I improve? Instead of perfectionism that is other-focused: what will they think?
Perfect is the enemy of good. Being content with good is better than failing to be perfect. There is no such thing as “perfect”, it’s a moving target that will forever be out of reach.
Stop thinking “I will be happy when _______. Instead, be happy and content now and enjoy the journey. I am far from perfect (which is fine since it’s unattainable) but some actions that I’ve found helpful are living according to my values, daily gratitude diary and practicing meditation.
As long as my actions align with my values I’ve got nothing to be ashamed of. The troubles start once we let others guide our actions. I guess it’s all about not really giving a shit. Stop trying to fit in and rather focus on belonging.
*I can not recommend this book highly enough. I don’t think I’ve ever highlighted a book as much as Daring Greatly.