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The Antidote to Shame: I Am Enough

“You alone are enough. You have nothing to prove to anybody.” ~Maya Angelou

I grew up with a father who was an addict. When I was fourteen my dad hit rock bottom and lost a job with a six-figure salary, my parents separated, my dad went to rehab for alcoholism and sex addiction, and I learned my dad had been cheating on my mom.

My dad's immense shame for his actions led to him being on suicide watch in the rehab hospital where he was staying. Even though I knew the word “shame” at the age of fourteen, I was not acutely aware of what it meant. But looking back, this was not only my dad’s overwhelming feeling, but also my own emotional state.

I can remember a Sunday school member, from my mom’s class, coming over to give my mom a check to help with our house payment. It was such a wonderful, kind gesture, but I felt so embarrassed that my friend’s parents were giving up their own money, money they could use for themselves, in order to keep a roof over our heads.

My feelings of shame deepened as I found our family depending on church and family members to keep us financially afloat.

My mom was so depressed that our home quickly became a mess, which further isolated me, because I felt too mortified to invite friends over. I was deeply ashamed of my dad and our messy home, and without realizing it, I started to develop feelings of inadequacy.

In my fourteen-year-old mind, my family defined who I was, and their mistakes left me feeling not good enough and not worthy. 

At this young age I had never heard Maya Angelou’s words, “You alone are enough,” so I tried to prove my worth by getting a job at the young age of fourteen. And my work, school, and activities at church became a means to prove to others I was good enough.

Now, at the age of thirty-nine, I still recognize this tendency to demonstrate my value to others. Because of my story, I will likely need to work at reminding myself of my beauty and worth for the rest of my life. Maybe this is true for you as well.

I've realized that shame led me to spend a great deal of my life being a plastic surgeon of sorts, who constantly tried to cover up my imperfections. Shame encouraged me to keep a perfect house, always wear makeup, and to build a resume that said I was somebody.

Obviously it's not a bad thing to keep a clean house, maintain your physical appearance, or obtain graduate degrees. I don't regret some of the accomplishments I've made along the way, and yet I'm aware that I've worked myself to death at times, in order to validate my worthiness.

Shame is the voice in our heads that questions our own worth and beauty, and the devil on our shoulder that convinces us we don't measure up.

For me, it has been incredibly important to let go of the need to be perfect, in the process of healing my shame. If I don't have to be perfect, I can then be honest and vulnerable with friends about the struggles I am facing in life.

Early my marriage, it was important for me to create the illusion that I had the perfect marriage. But if you are married or in a relationship of any kind, you know sustaining a partnership can be incredibly tough. When I started to open up to my friends about this, I noticed they were more open with me about the struggles in their relationships.

When we start to share the painful aspects of our story with others, it’s often as if we can hear the crickets, cicadas, our friends, and all of creation join in a mighty chorus of “me too.” And once we hear the “me too” somehow it normalizes our story, and reminds us we are all on this journey of being human together.

Another important tool for me on the quest to free myself from shame has been to find people who offer me empathy and acceptance. 

Shame can be a very isolating feeling that makes us feel like we are sinking in quicksand, but when we keep our story to ourselves, our profound feelings of self-loathing deepen and we descend further into the sand. However, one antitoxin to avert shame is finding safe people who will receive our stories and help pull us out of the sand that traps us.

How do we find these people? I encourage you to think of someone in your circle of friends, at your workplace, in your family, or at your place of worship who is accepting, empathetic, free of judgment, and who it just feels good to be around.

The person you are likely thinking of is type of person who kindly remembers when you've had a recent death in the family, and when they ask you how you are managing with the grief and loss, you really feel that they care about you.

This is someone who it feels safe to share your darkest secrets with because you believe this person will confidently hold your story.

When I was a teenager, the first people I really trusted to share my shame and pain with were counselors, the youth leaders at my church, and eventually I opened up to trusted friends.

It can be incredibly scary to open up to others with our shame stories, and yet when we find the audacity to share parts of ourselves we are hiding, we then start to find our voice, see our strengths, and recognize our shared humanity with others.         

It is so healing to experience people who receive our shame stories and who see and affirm us, even when we feel unworthy of this love. And even though I am aware these external voices of affirmation are paramount in the task of healing the shame that binds me, I am aware the most vital voice is my own internal voice.

It is so important for us to see our beauty, accept ourselves, celebrate who we are, and to know that we matter. So when we start to doubt ourselves, it is very important for us to remind ourselves that we are enough.

Knowing that we are enough means that we see our gifts. So what are the gifts we have to offer the world? And do we know deep down in our soul that we are enough? It is crucial in the process of healing the shame we internalize, to start affirming ourselves and our value.

I have turned one of my favorite Maya Angelou quotes on it's head and made it into the following mantra:

Take a deep inhale and exhale and then say out loud or in your mind’s eye:

I am enough.

Take a deep inhale and exhale and then say out loud or in your mind’s eye:

I don't need to prove myself to anyone.

Don't end up like me and waste way too many years trying to prove your worth. You are complete, beautiful, and worthy just as you are.

Let's give up the exhausting task of becoming plastic surgeons who try to cover up our blemishes, and instead remember that our scars are actually signs of strength, life, resilience, and beauty.

Instead of being a plastic surgeon who masks and hides shame, I am now making it my mission to become a soul surgeon. I believe the task of a soul surgeon is to operate on shame through: naming our vulnerabilities, surrounding ourselves with people who celebrate us, and making sure we find a voice from within that knows our own worth and value.

We are truly enough. May we let this knowledge settle into our mind, bones, flesh, heart, and every part of our being.

About Christy Bonner

Dr. Christy Bonner is a licensed marriage and family therapist, a board certified chaplain, and a certified yoga teacher.  Check out her blog: www.mindbodyandspiritcare.com.

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