I’m feeling better today. As uncomfortable as I felt yesterday writing that post about the twin demons I felt, giving myself an instant vulnerability hangover*, it was a good thing to share honestly where I was at; to trust my core, stand in my own identity, and not be afraid to show who I am and where I’m at. In the past, I could never do that because of hidden shame. I don’t have that kind of shame anymore, so I can risk sharing my real self – just like riding on a roller coaster, even though it feels a little bit dangerous I know I am safe and loved. It’s funny how life gives you illustrations of the principles you’re working through.
I was with my youngest daughter yesterday, picking up a few things at the store in preparation for our beach trip. The person in front of us in line at the checkout had a cute little boy in the cart. He was probably no more than 20 months old or so. He was enjoying the people around him, making eye contact with whoever passed by, smiling, moving his body to the beat of the music being piped in through those round flat speakers up on the ceiling. It made me remember one of the coolest things about little children is that they are unafraid to be themselves. As I shared with my daughter, babies and toddlers don’t hide behind any made up identities; they are unstained by the world and feel no need to pretend. When they’re happy, they’re happy. When they’re sad, you’ll know about it.
As that child grows, he’ll learn to hide parts of himself in order to mitigate the risk of rejection. He’ll figure out that some people don’t approve of him just as he is, he will feel ashamed, and he’ll try to change himself in order to be liked. Isn’t that sad? We all do that; some more than others. We care about being liked, and other people don’t want us to express ourselves in a unique way because it feels threatening to them. We withdraw in order to become less vulnerable. We create false identities or lessen the expression of who we are in order to avoid feelings of shame, instead of simply and honestly presenting ourselves to the world. In an effort to bring peace to my childhood home, I tried to be what I thought my father wanted me to be and hid who I really was for so long that it became a subconscious knee-jerk action – invisibly affecting my life and wreaking havoc on my relationships.
But there is a better way. We can let go of the shame that forces us into hiding, that makes us hate ourselves. It’s never too late.
*Vulnerability hangover: watch this enlightening Ted talk by Brene Brown, where she talks about shame and vulnerability.