Last week I had the teeth-crooked-and-falling-out dream that I have had many times before. This dream can represent many things: loss of control, powerlessness or difficulty communicating, lack of self-confidence or embarrassment. Recently, I have discovered that the worst part of these dreams is that I feel horrified that someone will see how ugly I look. I think for me this dream symbolizes my anxieties and worries and my deep fear of being embarrassed. I am so afraid that someone will find out about my shortcomings or see my faults. I fear shame.
Shame is a core human emotion and a close cousin of guilt… but there is a significant difference: Guilt is the feeling that you DID something wrong or bad. Shame is the feeling that there is something wrong or bad about who you ARE. This painful emotion can erode your self-worth and sap your power by making you believe that you don’t deserve to be happy.
What shame really boils down to is our fear of ego-death. It’s the terrifying feeling that, at any moment, we could be humiliated and lose our sense of being loveable, capable and worthy. What if someone sees under my mask? What if someone uncovers the parts of me which make me ugly and undesirable? What if I make a mistake and look like an incompetent fool? What if someone sees that I am just not good enough and don’t deserve to be here? What if I am exposed for all to see?!
Last night I was dreaming that I was shopping for a bathing suit. I tried one on but it didn’t fit right. I tried another but I wanted it in another colour. I was desperately looking through the rack to try and find it. I looked up swim suit in my dream dictionary and it means feeling exposed or emotionally vulnerable. This pretty much sums up how I’ve felt recently. I’ve been so sensitive about everything; what I say and do, what others say and do, crying over things that normally wouldn’t bother me. I think part of me actually wants to be completely exposed so then I won’t have anything to hide anymore–I will be FREE! And isn’t that what we all yearn for?
We all just want to be accepted for who we are so we can live our truth and be the full expression of our authentic self. Once we let go of the fear of shame, then we can truly accept ALL of ourselves, warts and all. (funny, I just remembered we were talking about warts the other day) The next step is a little tougher– overcoming the worry of being rejected and having the courage to show ALL of ourselves to others. It’s hard but rewarding. As you expose more of yourself to others, your fear gets smaller and as your fear gets smaller, it becomes easier to show more and more. This is how we can achieve real closeness and intimacy in relationships.
Unfortunately, our fear of shame often leads us into staying separate and isolated. There are many strategies we use in our attempts to avoid shame. We seek perfection, we are overly nice, we withdraw, we run away and we divert blame. I have tried them all! I tried being perfect and ‘good’, thinking that I could hide whatever I thought was horribly wrong with me. I tried being super nice, believing that no one would reject me as long as I didn’t rock the boat. I tried hiding away from the world but that only left me lonely and sad. I tried dancing all the time, figuring that people wouldn’t notice my flaws if I was always moving. And I tried putting the blame on the people around me but of course that didn’t alleviate the anxiety either.
Another sign of hanging onto shame is being rigid and judgemental. Following rules keeps me safe, right? If everybody just follows these rules and routines, things will go smoothly and predictably and there will be no chance of embarrassment, no chance of failure, no chance of something erratic happening and no chance of someone swooping in to reveal the real me.
How much we judge other people is usually a good indicator of how much we judge ourselves. When we can have compassion for ourselves and our imperfections and forgive ourselves for our mistakes, then we can be forgiving and compassionate towards those around us. Being open and flexible is so important, too. By allowing others to be themselves and accepting them as they are, we open the door to accepting ourselves and allowing ourselves to go with the flow of life.
Lastly, to break free from the chains of shame, we can appreciate all the small victories. I am working on this one! I am so used to beating myself up whenever I make a mistake, telling myself that I am not good enough, smart enough, strong enough, capable enough. I am so used to feeling disappointed and angry at myself when I believe I have failed in some way or haven’t lived up to my impossible expectations. I forget to acknowledge all the good things I do and the good person I am. It’s time to congratulate myself and say–GREAT JOB, Donna! Wow!! Look at what you have accomplished! See how far you have come! Be proud of your tremendous courage and strength! You are inspiring!
It may seem easy to stay wrapped up in your cozy blanket that hides all your perceived flaws but really it is only living in fear; constantly worried that you will be ‘found out’. Rather than dodging the ‘negative’ or more difficult emotions, we can observe them and use them as an opportunity to understand and grow.
As the saying goes, “the only way out is through”–you have to go through all the painful emotions before you get to the other side; like we need to have rain in order to see a rainbow. Waiting on the other side is the truth about yourself and all the beauty that exists within–your true colours. You are not bad or unworthy or unlovable. You are human–a magnificent being of life and light, perfect just the way you are.