The Self-Worth Project: Shedding the Light on Shame
I am unable to count how many times I have come to learn that a woman who I find to be amazing, beautiful, fabulous, inspirational and talented, will underneath all her obvious strengths, find fault with herself and thinks she is “not enough” in one way or another.
When I recently read a poem by Patricia Lynn Reilly I felt she so amazingly captured in her writing what we go through when we question “What’s Wrong with Me?”
What’s Wrong with Me?
We frequent the therapist’s office,
Hoping the past holds an answer within it.
We fill the churches,
Maybe God knows the answer.
We attend self-help meetings, assured an answer is encoded within the Twelve Steps.
We write “Dear Abby” and every other expert,
Certain that they must know the answer.
We sit at the feet of spirituality gurus,
Believing they will show us the way to an answer.
We buy every self-help book that hits the market,
Confident that a new project will quiet the question.
We consent to outrageous measures
To guarantee our fertility or our attractability,
Convinced that the presence of a child
Or a love in our arms will dissolve the question.
We sign up for diet clubs and plans and spas,
Convinced that our bodies are at the core of the answer,
Whatever it turns out to be.
We spend hundreds of dollars
On new outfits to hide the question
And on new body parts to eradicate the question.
And then at night after the day’s search is over,
We binge on a quart of ice cream or a bottle of wine,
Or we spend hours on the Internet or telephone
In tormented conversations trying to figure out
Why the relationship isn’t working,
Hoping that when we reach the bottom of the quart or bottle,
Or the far reaches of the internet or conversation,
Things will have shifted deep within us
And once and for all we will know the answer
And what to do about it.
Yet no matter what we do in search of an answer:
No matter how much we lose or how slimming the dress,
No matter how expensive or authoritative the expert,
No matter how many babies, relationships,
Possessions we have or don’t’ have,
No matter how spiritual, therapeutic, or recovered we become
We are left with the same question over and over again
As we look into the mirror horrified
That the restructuring of our relationship, our womb,
Or our breasts did not quiet the question
There it is in the morning whispering from the mirror,
“What’s wrong with me? What’s wrong with me?’
A mantra that accompanies us the length of our days.
Why are we so critical of ourselves? Why do so many of us attempt to attain some sort of perfection, and perfection being unreachable, then flagellate ourselves for failing.
I am reading a book entitled The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are that has the best definition of perfection I have ever read. According to author Brené Brown, Phd, LMSW, “Perfectionism is the belief that if we live perfect, look perfect, and act perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgment, and shame.” Embracing perfectionism is about adopting a belief system that “I am what I accomplish and how well I accomplish it. Please. Perform. Perfect. Healthy striving is self-focused – How can I improve? Perfectionism is other-focused – What will they think?”
Brown also shares that “Research shows that perfectionism hampers success. In fact, it’s often the path to depression, anxiety, addiction, and life–paralysis. Life-paralysis refers to all of the opportunities we miss because we’re too afraid to put anything out in the world that could be imperfect. It’s also all of the dreams that we don’t follow because of our deep fear of failing, making mistakes, and disappointing others. It’s terrifying to risk when you’re a perfectionist; your self-worth is on the line.”
Prior to writing this book the author had been a self-described “shame researcher.” She shares incredible wisdom in every point she hits in her book. For example she touches on worthiness. Here is a taste of what she shares: “The greatest challenge for most of us is believing that we are worthy now, right this minute. Worthiness doesn’t have prerequisites. So many of us have knowingly created/unknowingly allowed/been handed down a long list of worthiness prerequisites:
I’ll be worthy when I lose twenty pounds.
I’ll be worthy if I can get pregnant.
I’ll be worthy if I get/stay sober.
I’ll be worthy if everyone thinks I’m a good parent.
I’ll be worthy when I can make a living selling my art.
I’ll be worthy if I can hold my marriage together.
I’ll be worthy when I make partner.
I’ll be worthy when my parents finally approve.
I’ll be worthy if he calls back and asks me out.
I’ll be worthy when I can do it all and look like I’m not even trying.
Here’s what is truly at the heart of Wholeheartedness: Worthy now. Not if. Not when. We are worthy of love and belonging now. Right this minute. As is.”
As we sit at the campfire together consider what opportunity you are missing because you are too afraid to put something out in the world because it isn’t perfect.
Consider what you hold over your own head in order to feel worthy.
Share with us at least one such situation in which you hold back because you are seeking perfection.
Share with us if there are ways that questioning your own self-worth holds you back.
After considering the downfalls of perfectionism what might you do differently now?
After hearing that you are worthy now, right this minute, as you are, can you embrace this truth? Can you live it? Does it change anything for you?
The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself. ~ Anna Quindlen
If you have a little more time on your hand here is a video of author Brené Brown appearing on a televised PBS interview and she talks about Shame and Perfection. Prior to the actual interview with the author is some information on the class she teaches and how creating art is included in the program, as well as how other organizations are using her research to help women who have spent time incarcerated to relearn how to accept and love themselves.