When you join the U.S. Government, you have to fill out a long form disclosing pretty much everything you’ve ever done.
It took me weeks to find addresses for the random places I’d lived in India, Tanzania, and Uganda, and come up with dates for all the quick cross-border trips I’d made from Germany to the Netherlands, Belgium and France.
But the goal of the form is not to disqualify you or drive you insane (though it comes close).
Instead – the goal is to pull out your shame.
Because shame makes you do things you’d never consider. Things like spying and treason.
Because when you have shame, you can be blackmailed. You have something to hide – something that doesn’t fit with your perception of yourself and what you want others to know or believe about you.
Of course, we all have things we’re ashamed of: times we wished we’d acted better; things we wish we hadn’t done.
But most of us fess up to those lesser moments in our lives and laugh them off. We realize that we’re lovable and good despite our momentary failings.
The trouble comes when you let your shame define you.
Then you find yourself at war between the person you present yourself to be and the monster you believe you are and keep hidden.
We all have things we wish other people didn’t know.
But there’s a difference between being embarrassed and distorting your life and the truth to hide where you presume you’re broken.
No matter where you fall on the shame spectrum, there are a couple of antidotes that can help you no matter what:
1. Accept yourself.
Be honest with yourself about who you are. It may be hard to admit you hurt people or want something your family or culture doesn’t support, but hiding from your desire doesn’t help either.
2. Forgive yourself.
Angry, hate-filled people do angry, hate-filled things. Even if those things are just damaging to themselves. You can’t find salvation or change by trying to force yourself into a mold. Soften your judgement and forgive instead.
3. Assume you are whole.
A good friend disclosed on their government intake form that they smoked pot 200 times. While I gasped in shock, they had no qualms – about their previous decision to smoke or their choice to honestly disclose.
My friend knew that their ability to be a good employee and serve the government was based on who they were NOW, not by choices they made when they were younger. They trusted their own judgement and capabilities – and got the job.
They did not let shame convince them to shrink away from living their future. They knew they were worthy of their dreams and claimed them in spite of – or perhaps even thanks to – their past.
Brene Brown teaches us that shame blocks us from developing the close connections we crave – the bonds that make our lives fulfilling and joyful.
It’s true on a personal level and in your relationships.
See if you can drop a small bit of the weight of shame you’re carrying today.
Because your worth loving fully.
Be free. Be brave. Be YOU!