Vulnerability and Shame

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Vulnerability. It’s a word that always comes to my mind when I’m putting out a blog post or even an Instagram post these days. I’m so passionate about creating photos, videos, and writing about the outdoors, veganism, spirituality, etc. I truly believe that the answers to all of our complex problems are painfully simple (albeit not easy) and I want to share this with those who experience the content we create. I want us to be able to inspire actual tangible change in peoples lives. 

But then there is a part of me that is the resistance to my own path. 

In my head live the imaginary critics. A sort of montage of all of the nasty, critical, rude comments I have heard spoken towards others, but this time pointed at me:

“Who is this girl that thinks she’s got it all figured out at 26 years old?”

“If she’s so smart, why isn’t she married with children by now?”

“Does she even do anything except for hike and hangout with her boyfriend?”

“Vegans are so arrogant and think they’re better than everyone else.”

“She is so fake. Her hair looks good in every picture. THAT’S NOT REAL.”

The more that I put myself out there, the more fear creeps up and makes me want to pull back. 

Obviously I get the occasional negative feedback that isn’t in the spirit of constructive criticism, but more often we receive incredibly supportive feedback from our community. I tend to fixate, however, on the negative. It is the people pleaser in me. In all of us. 

That is what I remind myself. These emotions that I am feeling: rejection, isolation, loneliness, shame, are felt by EVERYBODY. I cannot feel something that another human hasn’t experienced before. I’m not alone and there is comfort in that. Something that I feel is super beneficial to me when I am feeling alone or isolated in my emotions or beliefs is to seek out empathy from another being in some way. During a recent podcast that my friend Katelynn recommended to me, I listened while Dr. Brene Brown and Oprah Winfrey discussed shame and the visceral reaction that us humans have to even hearing the word. They described the feeling of complete isolation from others that a person experiences as being what shame is. It can occur as the result of one event or a lifetime of hearing that something about them is not acceptable, from individuals or society at large. Example: Hearing that being gay is wrong your entire life but knowing inside that you are gay. Or, hearing that not being a Christian will send you straight to hell but knowing in your heart that you don’t believe any of it. 

Though shame is one of the most dangerous emotions for a person to experience, as it can often lead to addiction, suicide, and a whole list of other physical ailments, it has a cure.

Empathy. 

When we reach out to a loved one, or even a stranger, and share with them our shame, and *if and only if* they meet this information with EMPATHY, our shame is defeated. 

“I’ve been there. It sucks. I will help you through this.”

Just hearing those hypothetical words makes me feel relaxed. 

The problem is, we are so programmed as a society to seek perfection. Showing our flaws feels extremely vulnerable. This leads to us not only feeling bad about ourselves for our flaws and hiding them from others, but it also makes us jerks. 

When you want to talk about your pain and what you’re going through, and others meet it with, 

“Wow that’s embarrassing.” or…. “You’re just overreacting.” or.. “How did you mess up that bad?” Or.. “Oh yeah? Well what happened to me was way worse…”

Our pain is amplified. 

Sharing our shame led to more shame. It makes us want to keep our pain bottled up and not talk about it. Not normalize the fact that life IS painful sometimes. Not spread the idea that all pain is relative and all pain is felt. It adds to the cycle of seeking perfection and hating ourselves for not achieving it. COLLECTIVELY.

What is the solution, you ask?

Be nice. 

Do not be so quick to point out flaws in others.

I don’t care if you’re with your friend and you’re talking about some person on Instagram that you don’t even know.  You may be belittling that stranger about getting pregnant before she was married, wearing the wrong outfit for the activity, being “all over the place” in her life, but the message you’re really sending is “If people don’t do things the way that I think they should then they should be ashamed and hide it.” That sends the message to yourself and your friend that they better not ever behave in those ways or have those things happen to them, or else they will not be accepted and loved. 

Why have such rigid standards of what a happy, acceptable life is? Or how people express themselves? Why be so harsh towards those who make mistakes when we all make mistakes? Why comment on someones photos to tell them they look bad or that what they are doing is stupid? That the way they are living their life doesn’t fit with your standard and you do not approve? 

I want to change the world. That is one thing that I am sure of. Even if I only reach a few people in my quest to improve the experience for all of us living beings on earth, it was worth the try. 

I have decided to take the route of creating art with images and words to inspire others. To share what has helped me to make my life happier. 

In my journey being vegan there have been many times, and still are, that I feel like no one in the world (other than Adam) sees what I am seeing. Like everyone thinks I’m crazy and that leads to feelings of isolation for sure. One thing I can recommend for that, as weird as it may sound, is to find your tribe on YouTube. There are people out there with channels that feel the way that you do about exercise, diet, human rights, cars, God, anything! Being able to hear that there are other people out there going through the exact same thing that you are can be incredibly comforting and grounding. The same thing goes for a good podcast or book. The realization that others have empathy for our pain is HUGE. 

I have also decided to only put positivity out there for the world to experience. This does NOT mean pretending everything in my life is awesome. It means that I’m not going to cut people down, overtly or passive-aggressively. I’m not going to try to shake people’s confidence in what they do or what they post or who they love or what they wear or ANYTHING, because I know that shame felt by ANYBODY is toxic to EVERYBODY. Shame makes people angry and short-tempered and hateful towards others. (You know how you can usually tell someone is cheating because they accuse their partner of cheating all the time? Same idea.) Shame festers and makes people drive cars into crowds of people. I will not participate in shaming others in ANY WAY. Period. 

That being said, I am not perfect. I understand that sometimes I say the wrong thing to people because of my own insecurities, so I know other people do that too. In this same respect, when someone says something hurtful to me, I try to meet that with empathy as well. “What is going on in their heart that is making them react like this to me?” In that way, it soothes my embarrassment and anger. 

The bottom line is, we all have to stop being so hard on each other. I feel like this has been the theme of the past few days with what I have been reading and listening to, so if you are interested I’ll leave some links of blog posts and podcasts that have brought this subject to the forefront in my mind. I highly recommend them:

"Women and Wild Places: Get Your Hands Off My Aesthetic"

Dr. Brene Brown: Daring Greatly

Dr. Brene Brown: Living with a Whole Heart

Mitch Albom: The Dying Know the Secrets to a Good Life