I’d like to dedicate this blog post to my Superego. My ever present, cunning, deceitful, manipulative, seductive self critic. And he/she/it (whatever you call yours) exists in all of our lives. Metaphorically speaking, mine is a Weasel because it is very difficult to catch.
As I said in my last post, our Superegos, serve to keep us out of the present moment, and to elevate (better than) or shame (not good enough) us. Shame, which some researchers call the ‘master emotion’, is particularly damaging in our lives. As you read this you might be reminded of what shame feels like for you. Feelings of shame drive a desire in me to be small (even physically by curling up), to keep my head down (not be seen), to silence my voice (not be heard), to not take risks etc. Ultimately shame suppresses my true self and does not allow me to be vulnerable and be seen by others.
And WOW was my Superego active after I dared to ‘put myself out there’, and let my true self be seen by actually letting people know that this blog exists (rather than just posting into the dark space of the internet). Who did I think I was? In Ireland, getting above ones’ station in life is frowned upon, and WOW was my Superego frowning upon me for ‘attempting to do just that’ by openly publicising this blog! So for about the last 10 days, I’ve been in a significant SHAME STORM and actually I’ve been doing OK.
Brene Brown, ‘researcher story teller’ (1), has researched vulnerability and shame for two decades and after conducting thousands of interviews with human beings like you and I, she has defined shame as:
“…the intense feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love, belonging and connection” (2; p126).
And if you look at my response to shame above, what does shame do in my life? It disconnects me from myself and therefore everyone in my life which pretty much makes it a self-fulfilling prophecy i.e. feeling or believing I am unworthy of love, belonging and connection cultivates disconnection. Notably, sharing this blog has created connections for me and with them some incredible gifts that I will share in future posts.
As I said above, despite the current storm I am doing OK because from the first time I learned of the toxicity of shame I have endeavoured to learn how to manage shame in my life. Here’s what I have found helpful and I post it here as an offering to others:
#1 Learn the Language of Shame
Giving voice to your Superego and learning your language of shame is only possible if you are aware that you are feeling shame. Developing emotional literacy, and being able to recognise your ‘shame feelings’ is a necessary first step. Sadness and fear are generally lurking around shame and as I said earlier, for me, these feelings manifest as wanting to hide and become small and in behaviours that enable me to do so.
#2 Fact Check Shaming Messages
Once I recognise that its shame that I am feeling, then I can create space to hear exactly what my Superego is actually saying to me to generate this shame response. I find it helpful to journal this and actually see the words on the page and in this format I find it quite easy to ‘fact check’ what my Superego is saying to me. Invariably, once I start to do this, the power of the words begin to diminish. Having read Brene Brown’s latest book (2) I have discovered that I am not that unique after all (phew!!). While my Superego may use different words, the nub of what it tells me seems to be universal amongst us all….. ‘I am not good enough’ or ‘who do I think I am?’
#3 Practice Self-Compassion
And when I might be struggling to respond to my Superego, even when I have the words in front of me, then I call upon ‘self-compassion’. I ask myself, what might I say to someone else who was doing this to themselves? And the real killer blow to my Superego is, what might I say to one of my children if I heard that they were saying this to themselves? Then I ask myself to pay myself the same kindness I have the capacity to show others and that seems to silence my Superego.
#4 Develop a Mantra for Shame
However, while practicing self-compassion, I usually hear myself say at least one thing that resonates deep inside me….and this I hold on to. This becomes my mantra for when my Superego, as she will, strikes again to try to engage me in another shame cycle.
So who is the Chair For?
I have known for quite some time that really THERE IS ONLY ONE JUDGE in our lives – one (self) critic – ourselves. Those outside of ourselves whom we think/fear are judging us, can only do so because WE HAVE GIVEN THEM EYES TO JUDGE US.
I read Rising Strong by Brene Brown (3) by way of support in the lead up to a result that I feared would not go my way. In this book I heard of the ‘Man in the Arena’ speech and read the famous Theodore Roosevelt quote for the first time (where have I been you may ask?!!). And it resonated deeply with me and part of it has since become a ‘go to’ mantra for shame. So according to Brene, and I know this to be true in my life, the toughest Arena we will ever enter is Vulnerability. Taking off our masks, armour or whatever other term might fit for you….and being REAL with ourselves and others. And when I’m in that Arena, as I have been since I publicised this blog, I know that in that beautiful yellow, velvet, seductive chair, the very best seat in the Arena, resides the only critic who counts in my life. My Superego.
But living a life forever outside of the Arena driven by fear holds not appeal to me….even failing, while Daring Greatly….now that’s living and the LIFE I CHOOSE TO LIVE as often as I can!
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
(Theodore Roosevelt, Excerpt from the speech ‘Citizen in a Republic’, Paris, April, 1910)
(1) See: https://brenebrown.com/
(2) Brene Brown (2018). Dare to Lead. Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts. London: Vermilion. Available at: https://brenebrown.com/books-audio/
(3) Brene Brown (2015). Rising Strong. If we are brave enough, often enough, we will fail. London: Vermilion. Available at: https://brenebrown.com/books-audio/
I’d also strongly recommend watching Brene in action in these two fantastic Ted Talks:
Thanks Paula for taking this brave step and for generously sharing these important insights with us so clearly. Jim
Love this post on shame, Paula. Biggest life inhibitor for me. Becoming more aware of it, though, gives me hope that maybe I can begin to try to manage it. Thanks for shedding light on this subject.
Delighted you got something from this Mary.