I write a lot. I write here. I write for 15 minutes every morning in a personal journal. I write in my children’s scrapbooks, capturing bits and pieces of the memories to describe the photos I choose to tell their stories. I write lists and meal plans and notes on our family calendar. I write professionally every day, public education resources for the web, documents for the media, proposals, strategies and content for other professional publications. I have a separate journal at work in which I write everything I’ve done in a day, and jot notes for ideas and inspiration related to my career.
Some much of my life is woven tightly into my writing, it’s fair to say that it defines and influences almost everything I do. I use it to find and understand myself, to explore and discuss new ideas, to tell my stories, and to support my family.
But as much as writing sustains me, it’s also my greatest shame trigger. It brings me equal parts joy and fulfillment, as insecurity and discomfort. Because so much of what I do is wrapped up in writing, it’s the measure I use to evaluate my life, to determine my own self-worth, to feel valued and skilled. It’s a hard measure to live by, both personally and professionally, because it’s highly individual, and a matter of perspective. What I write here, for example, is so very different than what I write professionally, their objectives distinct and unique, but all of it open to critique and interpretation. Sometimes I have a hard time navigating the two and finding balance. Mostly I never feel good enough.
I’m reading I Thought it Was Just Me by Brené Brown, which is prompting me to think carefully about my own shame, and how it impacts my life. More importantly I’m thinking about building my own shame resilience, and moving closer to a place of comfort and self-satisfaction and away from a place of self-judgment in my writing.
Last week I had a deeply shaming experience. I was feeling tired and spent from a busy, and difficult week. On its own this is always a recipe for overreaction. Toward the end of the day on Thursday I received some feedback on a large project I had been working on for months. Under normal circumstances, it wouldn’t have been significant enough to illicit such a visceral emotional response. But I took it personal, felt judged professionally, and retreated deeply into shame. So deeply, in fact, that I fell asleep that night crying and struggled through the first anxiety attack I’d had in months. The next morning, I woke up shaky and exhausted.
When we are in shame, we don’t see the big picture; we don’t accurately think about our strengths and limitations. We just feel alone, exposed and deeply flawed.
This is what my writing does to me, because it matters so much to me. I want to be a good writer, I want to do well. In fact, I want to do better than well. I want this to be my thing. But how can it be when it makes me feel incredibly insecure. Should a person’s thing be the very activity they feel the most confident about?
Try as I might, I’m having difficulty moving to a place where I believe, in my gut, that doing my best is good enough, and makes me worthy. I’m the kind of person who deals with shame by moving toward it, by seeking to appease and please. I spend too much time worrying what others think, and not enough time validating what I know to be true, inside.
It’s unhealthy and troublesome, the core of all my struggles.
So I’m reading attentively, and thinking carefully about how I can build my own shame resilience. I’ve already come so far, this time last year I would never have recognized what was happening on Thursday, and today I’d still be stewing and worrying. But now I see it for what it was. The feedback and the commentary that followed made me feel flawed and incapable, and so I had a physical and emotional reaction. I was steeped in it.
Now that I recognize it, know it, I can continue to monitor my triggers, I can gain a better understanding of how it affects, and perhaps do a better job of reigning it in, moving past it quicker and forgive myself the struggle.