“Don’t talk back!”
I heard those words so often growing up that they still reverberate through my head far too often. They were a common admonishment when I wanted to make my point, defend myself, state my case, or otherwise get myself out of trouble . I was convinced that if I could just explain my side, I could show that I didn’t deserve to be in trouble. I wasn’t trying to “sass” or be disrespectful as was so often thought.
I never understood why I couldn’t present my side of things yet I eventually accepted the reality that sometimes my side of it didn’t change things. Sometimes because I’d done the wrong thing even if I thought it was for the right reasons and sometimes because no one wanted to hear my side of things or cared why I did what I did that got me in trouble.
It’s strange how that message can become so ingrained that one doesn’t even dare talk back to one’s self even when one’s self is spewing downright cruel self-talk, particularly the self-talk born from the criticism or admonishment one received about wrongdoing.
Brené Brown talks about the difference in shame and blame in her work. Her research defines shame as “I am bad” and blame as “I did something bad.” This might seem like an over-generalization, but that’s the gist of it. When I first studied her work, I thought “I don’t live in shame. Yay me!!”
Then… oh, there’s always a then. I was sitting at my desk after making some silly mistake and I started listening, really listening, to my self talk. Not in the internalization-that-made-me-feel-bad-about-myself way but in the okay-what-am-I-really-saying-to-myself way. And there it was. My self-talk was full of… I am bad… I am every bad thing in the book. I am all those horrible things everyone has ever said about me. I am… Boom!! I saw the shame like a dark cloud gathering. I heard shame screaming at me. I could almost smell the shame. I could taste the shame in my mouth like a bitter pill dissolving on my tongue. I felt the shame like a punch in the gut.
And I thought… Oh, this is what Brené was talking about.
I took each shame thought and examined it, analyzed it as it arose. Asked myself if it was true. Then I looked at why each shame thought existed. For some, the answer was easy. For some, it was quite difficult. For others, I’m still not sure.
But right then, I replied to each shame thought with an “okay, so what did I do that was bad?” and tried to change the…