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The Shame Game


I recently shared the process to becoming a psychologist (check out that blog here!). That “chapter” of my journey lasted 12 years.


12 YEARS!! WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?!


Okay, reader, I’ll tell you! I did a 6-year undergrad, then 2 years of extra classes, then 4 years for a master’s degree. Math is not my strong suit, but that equals 12.


I often look back and lament how long it took me to get to where I wanted to be:

  • If I had not been so insistent on becoming a pediatric cardiologist, I would already be a psychologist!

  • If I had not struggled so much in university, I would have gotten into a master’s program sooner and graduated sooner!

  • If I had taken the right classes, I would not have had to do the equivalency of 2 undergraduate degrees!

  • If I hadn’t been so lost, I would not have graduated at 30!

  • If! IF! IF!!

Why does it bug me so much? What does it matter that my journey took several detours? Why should I care that I am only just starting my career?


Shame – that’s why.


Brené Brown describes shame as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection” (2013, January 14, para. 2). Shame is a powerful and destructive thing; it can prevent us from overcoming challenges, keep us from realizing our true potential, or hold us back from moving forward.


When I think of my own shame, I see how I failed as a student. I went to university to become a doctor, but after a few semesters, I realized that I did not know how to study or how to write exams, and that I was not able to retain much of the information I was studying. I started failing a few exams, which turned into failing a few classes, which meant that I was failing at life. And rather than taking a step back and thinking that maybe I was not in the “right” field of study, I just continued! Because – for me – if I continued and reached my goal of being a doctor, I would redeem these failed classes and prove that I was worthy. I would be worthy of love, admiration, and respect.


But, Melodie, you are a therapist! Can’t you see how that logic is flawed?


Why, yes, reader, I should see the error in my thinking! And it took me a really long time to stop playing the shame game.


So how do we get over our shame?


Great question! Unfortunately, I do not have an easy answer.


Overcoming shame starts with looking at lies that we have been believing as truths. What negative thoughts, feelings, or beliefs have become part of your daily rhetoric? What unhelpful thoughts have become part of how you define yourself?


I am not good enough. I am not doing enough. I am not enough.


Those are some really heavy thoughts. Those hold a lot of shame.


Now tell me how any of these statements are true. What supports these beliefs? What refutes them?

If we really break down these shameful thoughts into rational and more accurate thoughts, we can start to challenge unhelpful thought patterns that prevent us from moving forward. Once you become aware of these unhelpful, inaccurate thoughts, you can start changing them. Change them into positive, rational, accurate thoughts!


As with anything with change, it takes time, and it takes engagement. Be kind to yourself in the process.

You are worthy of so much! Don’t let shame keep you from seeing that.


Okay, sure thing! So, do you still see yourself as a failure?


Unfortunately, the thought still plagues me at times – times when I am overwhelmed, overworked, tired, or burned out. I then struggle with feelings of unworthiness, but I no longer allow that to define me. There are times, especially when it comes to school (Doctorate, here I come!), when it becomes very easy to see all my shortcomings. Nevertheless, I know that my truth is that I have succeeded so many more times than I have failed, and that my “failures” were incredible learning and growth moments for me. I would not be where I am today. I would not be who I am today - and who I am is pretty cool (if we define cool as a geeky bibliophile that is obsessed with Disney princesses, superheroes, and blue police boxes….).


Remember, always be kind. (Rewind).


Melodie

References:

Brown, B. (2013, January 14). Shame v. guilt. Retrieved from https://brenebrown.com/blog/2013/01/14/shame-v-guilt/

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