December 13, 2012
"To be beautiful means to be yourself. You don't need to be accepted by others. You need to accept yourself." - Thich Nhat Hanh
We feel this truth deeply and yet we struggle with self-acceptance.
What scares us so much that we continue the dissatisfying cycle of seeking external approval instead of exploring internally?
In a quest to understand human happiness, vulnerability researcher Brene Brown uncovered a simple answer: shame.
Shame is the belief that we're not enough (smart enough, pretty enough, thin enough, good enough or worthy enough) to find love, acceptance, happiness and fulfillment. It’s the nagging worry that if we do take a look under our own hood, we’ll find a dysfunctional engine, incapable of taking us where we want to go. This feeling is universal. All who are capable of human connection have experienced shame.
For me, shame manifests as silence. It sits in my stomach, blocking the passage of air between diaphragm and mouth when I want to sing, the journey of intuition to expression when it’s time to write.
According to Brown, this isn’t uncommon. She says that shame breeds and feeds off fear and silence. It discourages direct inquiry -- because if we do look this monster in the eye, we may notice it’s nothing but a shadow, and its power would be lost.
Avoidance tactics manifest differently in each of us: excessive working, shopping, eating, socializing, worrying… but all who experience shame feel isolated. Like a great flood to our collective homeland, shame creates the illusion that we’re stranded on an island, separated from those we love. The journey then, to accept ourselves, is synonymous with our path toward one-another.
Learning of this, I now of course I want to know --- how do we free ourselves of this misconception!?
Just as Thay prescribes compassion to alleviate suffering, Brown asserts that empathy is the antidote to shame.
The second time I watched Brene Brown’s TED Talk, I couldn’t help but notice the parallels between her and Thay’s teachings. How does the path from shame to empathy differ from that of duality to non-duality? I’m not sure it does.
Though Brown’s lens is scientific and Thay’s is spiritual, these teachers seem to be offering similar lessons: Disconnection/suffering/shame can be relieved through empathy/compassion - first for ourselves, and then for others.
Understanding this concept is beautiful, uplifting, awesome. The practice of enacting it proves to be more difficult than I’d expected. It’s not all epiphanies and warm-fuzzies. In fact, empathy lives in the struggle. Brown encourages us to venture into the “swampland of our soul” not to live there, but to take a look around. Similarly, Thay teaches us to accept our suffering - to cradle it, like a new born baby.
This willingness to be vulnerable is the only thing Brown could find (after thousands of interviews) that distinguished happy people from unhappy people. It’s not a perfect self that makes us happy, it’s the openness to accept ourselves exactly as we are.
Maybe now’s a good time to do something that scares you because it’s so true. Call the friend you love but think you've lost, draw awareness to a difficult emotion without judgment, write that exposing blog about shame ;).
If you'd like to share this act with me, please leave a comment, I'd love to witness your triumph!
And watch Brene Brown's TED talk below. It's impossible to summarize her findings and they are remarkable.
"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 in marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again...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, courtesy of Brene Brown