“When there is no enemy within, the enemies outside cannot hurt you.” ~ African proverb
Margaritas Restaurant. The age of 16. My first day on the job as a waitress – my first paying job. There I was trying to balance 2 drinks on a small tray in the air like the other waitresses who did it with ease. I remember trembling my way over to the table and as I lowered the tray, my worst fear came true. The 16-ounce beer toppled over right into the gentleman's lap. I wanted to disappear into thin air and did my best to grapple for the words that could allow this man to forgive me. Oh yes, the dreaded emotion of SHAME filled my body and lingered with me for the entire day. How could I shrink away? How could I get away from this feeling? I was drowning in it. Save me, someone. I want to disappear.
Shame: the most toxic of destructive emotions. Despair. Fear. Sadness. Anger. Resentment. None of them feels good in our bodies. None of them are helping us walk our path.
However, shame is the lowest vibrating emotion. It is immobilizing. Ravaging. It makes us viscerally sick. It feels like we are wearing a scarlet letter. And it shakes our soul’s foundation.
Shame doesn’t deliver just once either. The assault is made and the shame rushes in. This represents the sting of the first arrow. Then we replay searing scenes of shame to sting ourselves voluntarily, time and time again. We exercise our free will by stinging ourselves with the second arrow and encouraging all the sensations to come acutely pouring back into our bodies. Why do we do this?
Shame in the Workplace
I wish that episode at 16 was my only episode that evoked my shame in the workplace but it wasn’t. I’ve felt it many times since that day.
I remember getting reamed by a colleague on a consulting engagement who felt I overlooked her “title” and did not like the way I introduced her to a client. I’ve been reprimanded for taking risks I felt were growth-oriented by business partners who were not ready to grow. I've made mistakes as a parent and as a lover.
Shame rushed in with each one of these episodes, while simultaneously eating away at my self-worth and confidence. Brené Brown, a researcher of shame resilience explains it this way: When we feel shame, it goes to our core of worthiness. We feel defective, broken, and damaged. Our inner message is “I am bad.”
Guilt feels similar to shame. However, they are very distinct. When we feel guilt, we have the sense that our behavior was wrong. Then, we hear from our inner voice “Yikes, I did something bad.”
Brené describes it simply: “Shame is about who we are and guilt is about our behaviors.” In that frame, guilt seems doable. Shame, however, feels crippling.
The Wound is Where the Light Enters
There will be times that you take on shame but realize you were not to blame. For me, those incidents became the crack of light that warranted going within to investigate further. My open curiosity would allow me to be a silent witness to my actions and see where I was acting in accordance with my values and not worthy of the shame I was feeling. Other times when my actions were misaligned with the authentic me, I learned to stop judging myself so harshly and see the opportunity to learn instead. I was able to elevate above the “walking wounded” to allow for the vulnerable expression of my true Self in the workplace, making for much richer interactions and a sense of worthiness that infused my presence with a feeling of honesty and respect. I openly invited more transparency from everyone around me so that they too could process and work through their own feelings of shame. Our open communications helped my colleagues and clients to see their own beliefs and values and to also live in integrity. We were able to come together as a team to collaborate through a foundation of heartfelt sharing and feeling of empowerment.
The Myth of Unworthiness
Each of us enters into this world perfectly whole, a beautiful being, and completely pure.
And as we go through adolescence, our human wholeness gets chipped away and we lose our sense of worthiness. We question ourselves, our inner value, and our worth. I struggled with this a good portion of my life and sought to fill the void by getting straight A's in school, moving up the ladder in my career and acquiring multiple certifications and advanced degrees. I strove for perfection at all times. Yet, attaining my goals never was enough!
When we live and go to the workplace feeling unworthy, we feel disconnected from our true essence, from others, and our work. This is one reason why employee engagement in the workplace is so low. Oftentimes people are simply sleepwalking through life with the weight of the world on their shoulders. This is what happens when we stuff these dense emotions over years and decades. It is only when we gift ourselves the opportunity to get quiet and go within that we can heal and evolve from the inside-out. A feeling of self-love and acceptance can be achieved with practice and daily discipline. Our thoughts matter and create the reality that we experience, which is why it is so important to interrupt the chatter and decide for yourself if you want to keep playing that soundtrack. You get to decide.
It took a long time for me to realize my self-worth had nothing to do with my achievements in life and that I was, in fact, born 100% worthy. Maybe you are seeking to prove your own worth with more accomplishments, status, money, advanced degrees or possessions. If so, I invite you to stop searching and get silent. Be the observer of the life that is playing out on the screen. What do you see? What are the feelings that surface? Do you feel aligned with the 5-year-old child you once were who lived with a fearless abandon and sense of wonder? Do you long to reunite with the all-knowing Self that once occupied your body? Do you long to come HOME to YOU?
Each of Us Is Worthy
Allow your heart to lead you on this path back HOME to who you really are. Give yourself permission to simply BE. Recognize the time is NOW and you have waited long enough. You are here to live a WHOLE life and it is your birthright to do so. As humans, we have free will and get to decide to take our power back. Today, embrace the parts of yourself that have been neglected and give yourself the unconditional love you have been longing to feel. Go on, you are so worthy of this inner hug.
As you go through your day, remember YOU ARE WORTHY—you are uniquely perfect just the way you are. In fact, you are perfectly imperfect and this is what others admire most about you.
Feel the rush of liberation and vitality. This is what you've been waiting for. What a blessing to be free.
About the Author:
Kristin Swarcheck is a Change Catalyst, Leadership Expert, Consultant & Transformative Coach with 20 years' experience catalyzing breakthrough results for leaders around the globe. She is also a certified meditation, mindfulness and yoga teacher who specializes in teaching multi-day ‘immersion’ retreats to help leaders lead from the inside-out. Known for her down-to-earth, engaging and authentic teaching style, she empowers leaders through the power of self-awareness, mindfulness and emotional intelligence. From individual coaching to enterprise-wide transformations, Kristin produces extraordinary breakthroughs in thinking, actions and results.