SHAME AND VULNERABILITY
Everyone experiences shame at one time another. It is an emotion with physical symptoms like any other that come and go, but when it is severe, it can be extremely painful.
Strong feelings of shame stimulate the sympathetic nervous system, causing a fight/flight/freeze reaction. We feel exposed and want to hide or react with rage, while feeling profoundly alienated from others and good parts of ourselves. We may not be able to think or talk clearly and be consumed with self-loathing, which is made worse because we are unable to be rid of ourselves. Internalized shame hangs around and alters our self-image. It is toxic.
It can hide in our unconscious, so that we are unaware that we have shame. When we experience shame, it lasts much longer. The feelings and pain associated with shame are of greater intensity. An external event is not required to trigger it. Our own thoughts can bring on feelings of shame. It leads to shame spirals that cause depression and feelings of hopelessness and despair. It causes chronic “shame anxiety” — the fear of experiencing shame.
It is accompanied by voices, images, or beliefs originating in childhood and is associated with a negative “shame story” about ourselves. We need not recall the original source of the immediate shame, which usually originated in childhood or a prior trauma. It creates deep feelings of inadequacy. If not healed, toxic shame can lead to aggression, depression, eating disorders, PTSD, and addiction. It generates low self-esteem, anxiety, irrational guilt, perfectionism, and co-dependency, and it limits our ability to enjoy satisfying relationships and professional success. But remember we can heal this and build our self-esteem.
So, what is vulnerability. It is uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. So, if we think about loving someone, whether it be your parents, siblings, spouse or close friends, love is filled with uncertainties and risks. Vulnerability is hard. But what can make it even harder are the inaccurate assumptions we hold about it.
We consider it to be a weakness. We love it when others are open and honest with us. But when it comes time for us to share, we freak out. Suddenly, our vulnerability is a sign of weakness.
Being vulnerable connects us with others. It opens us up to love, joy, creativity, and empathy. So, it more like truth and feels like courage.
Life is vulnerable. It is not a choice we have to make, but the choice is how we respond when the elements of vulnerability greet us: uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.
We tend to avoid being vulnerable and then we have this idea that it means spilling our secrets. Vulnerability embraces boundaries and trust. It is about sharing our feelings and our experiences with people who have earned the right to hear them. Being vulnerable takes courage. But it is worth it. It is worth it to be ourselves, to connect to others.