Are Shame and Fear Keeping You from Living Authentically?

Ladder from dark room leading into lightOne of my favorite writers, fellow social worker Brené Brown, has dedicated years researching vulnerability and all those other seemingly ugly things—such as shame and fear—that get in our way of becoming our best selves. Vulnerability, in particular, gets a bad rap. Although it seems unappealing at best and hurts like hell at worst, vulnerability is a prerequisite when it comes to living a life of authenticity and intimacy.

As a writer, I often put myself “out there” at the risk of being rejected, criticized, and judged. (Surprise—three of my least favorite things!) As a therapist, I ask the people I work with in the therapy room to do the same—that is, if their goal is to create deeper intimacy in their lives. Brown’s work has forced me to turn the mirror on myself and find out how shame and the fear of being vulnerable are holding me back from being the best writer (and therapist, friend, sister, partner, etc.) I can be.

It’s important to note the difference between guilt, the feeling of regret for one’s actions, and its more pervasive counterpart, shame, the feeling that we, at our core, are not good enough, inadequate, less than, and undeserving.

In her book Daring Greatly, Brown speaks of the little “gremlins,” or the negative messages we give ourselves (often external sources internalized), and how, in a twist of self-fulfilling fate, those negative gremlins sometimes end up showing up all around us. For example, the old friend you made back when you were in a dark place (when you could keep each other’s misery company) who expects you to be the same you and attacks you when you’re not. (Tip: It may be time to de-friend that friend.) Or the colleague who resents your achievements and thus feels the need to put you down to lift himself or herself up. (Reminder: It’s not you, it’s him/her!) And, finally, one of the worst creations to have come from modern technology—so-called Internet trolls. (What less courageous way to express yourself than to anonymously and publicly bully/shame someone brave enough to put themselves out there?)

The title of Brown’s book is inspired from Theodore Roosevelt’s “Citizenship in a Republic” speech, in which he states: “It’s not the critic who counts. … The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, who if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.” If you are going to criticize someone’s work or behavior, Brown suggests, you’d better be in the arena, bloody and sweaty and fighting right along with that person.

What sadder outcome than the shutting down of a voice that could possibly add something to the world, if only simply touching one life for the better?

I’d like to add that if you feel the need to criticize, do so openly and with respect. Or better yet, as my mother used to say, if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.

What sadder outcome than the shutting down of a voice that could possibly add something to the world, if only simply touching one life for the better? How many voices and gifts would we have missed out on if those who were brave enough to dare allowed the naysayers to shut them down?

I speak to myself as I struggle to allow myself to even write this piece as, you can be sure, my own gremlins are hard at work. But, like Brown, I will walk the walk and put my words into the ether regardless of how vulnerable it may make me. Because ultimately, I do aspire to a life lived with authenticity and intimacy—no matter how much it may hurt. The alternative is just not an option. So, bring it on.

I dare and encourage you to do the same.

What are some things that shame and fear are preventing you from achieving?

© Copyright 2016 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Allison Abrams, LCSW-R, therapist in New York City, New York

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • ginny

    ginny

    January 25th, 2016 at 8:10 AM

    Fear of facing my own truths? Yeah I can see that

  • Michelle

    Michelle

    January 25th, 2016 at 9:05 AM

    I love Brene Brown. I am a PCCI in California and find her research to be the core of most of my work with clients. I love the concept of gremlins. I also write a lot about her in my blog. I loved this article and thank you for sharing!

  • Alan

    Alan

    January 25th, 2016 at 11:20 AM

    If you are not willing to put it all out there then you are afraid of what other people think about you are will say about you. I have tried for a while now to get past all of that because I only need to answer to myself and for myself, not to anyone else.

  • Cara

    Cara

    January 26th, 2016 at 9:43 AM

    so easy for me to sit here and tell others that they should be kinder to themselves, but sooo much harder when I try to do this for myself too

  • Dunne

    Dunne

    January 27th, 2016 at 7:11 AM

    Gotta get it out of your head that you are living for others live for you, put the fears to rest.

  • Lynn

    Lynn

    January 29th, 2016 at 11:04 AM

    Nicely put! Wonderful distinction between guilt and shame. I say live your life, put yourself out there, and stay strong, because in the end, love is all that matters.

  • Bennett

    Bennett

    January 30th, 2016 at 8:35 AM

    I let the shame of growing up in foster homes really taint me for a while. It felt weird to have all of these different people in my life that I knew they cared or they wouldn’t be taking me in but it was never like having a real family. I never had any friends that much either because of the shame of not ever knowing if this was where I was going to be next month or would I have to move along to somewhere completely new and start all over again.
    This has made things difficult for me as an adult just not knowing that whole element of stability and what it is like to be in one place for more than a few months at a time.

  • clara

    clara

    January 30th, 2016 at 6:27 PM

    We have all had things in life that made us ashamed and afraid… but what good is living if it means that you are only running away from your life’s lessons? Stand up to those things, confront them and then learn a new way to bury them. You are wasting too much precious time giving into their energy draining ways.

  • Ida H

    Ida H

    August 16th, 2016 at 10:31 PM

    My God, this shame and fear has recently paralyed me into a deep depression that i cant seem to fight this time around. And, its about shame and my fears instilled since childhood. Respect and integrity has been my goal in life and recently thru gossip people are making me out as lacking these values. My fears and shame of an unhealthy relationaship have ballooned into a deep depression and causing me to open up other symptons such as ptsd and mania. All this has crumbled me to tiny pieces.

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