Stigmas – why do you think they need to exist? What makes one condition or experience something to be shameful about and yet another situation or condition to be acceptable? What makes a cold sore on your face perfectly okay but genital herpes, caused by the same virus, to be stigmatized and something to hold shame about? Why is it socially acceptable to have migraines but socially unacceptable to admit you are depressed or have suicidal thoughts? Why is it socially acceptable to proclaim your love for the opposite sex but not socially acceptable to some to love someone of the same sex? With the suicide of Robin Williams screaming from the headlines of every newspaper and newsfeed, with all the discussion and speculation and opinion, it got me thinking more about stigma and shame.
From personal experience and as a coach, I know that we all have things we feel we need to hide from the world because of shame and the fear of the social stigma associated with it. Why does society need to stigmatize certain things? Instead of judgment (which comes from non-acceptance of something within yourself) how about coming from a place of understanding and acceptance? What kind of world could we have if more of us tried to understand instead of judge. If more of us accepted each other’s humanity and didn’t need to label or judge because we are afraid of associating ourselves with whatever we deem unacceptable or shameful. And why does it even need to be shameful? Perhaps because we hate being vulnerable so we make things we fear shameful. I invite you to watch Brene Brown’s talk on shame: Brene Brown Shame.
So, what makes me feel vulnerable? What keeps me up at night? What holds me back from truly living from my passion?
- The first is my feeling of never feeling like I am “enough”. Thin enough, smart enough, talented enough, capable enough, enough enough. And when I try to determine what “enough” looks like, I can’t come up with an exact description. It changes with every insecurity that crosses my brain.
- My next point of vulnerability is that I have been married – three times. Yes, three times. Would I change that? No. Why? Because of the lessons I learned, the love I shared and the person I became as a result. Do I enjoy bringing it up when I meet a potential new partner? Um, let’s say no.
- Okay, speaking of relationships and things I hate bringing up, how about herpes? Yes, good old herpes. The virus that never goes away and has been around for centuries. The virus that a good portion of the population has but most (about 80%) don’t know they have it and those who do, have to disclose to those who most likely do but just don’t know it. There is huge stigma around that common virus. I have come to realize that the stigma is retarded and I don’t buy in to it but it’s never easy for me to bring it up in a new relationship, all the same.
- Another thing that I don’t share with everyone but is a part of who I am is child abuse. It was a reality in my life and I don’t feel shame but it is still a point of vulnerability for me because there are still people who look down on someone who has been abused and either blame them or judge them.
- My career as a legal assistant is another point of vulnerability for me which may come as a surprise to some. I feel vulnerable because I have always felt I was capable of so much more and the lawyers, in my experience, like to make legal assistants feel like second class citizens and I totally bought into it until recently. I also felt less than because I do not have a university degree or a “career”.
- My mothering skill were a source of insecurity for me as well but if you talk to my son, you’d hear from a young man who honestly feels like he can’t relate to anyone who has had a tough life and has offered to let me raise his future children because “I did it right the first time”. He is in his third year of university as a mechanical engineer with something like a 3.6 GPA. I must have done something right.
- My housekeeping skills – ahhhh – that makes me feel vulnerable. My house is comfortable” but my ability, or lack thereof, to decorate a home and keep it spotless (whatever the hell that is) leaves me feeling like less than a woman.
- Depression and suicide – those are two friends that show up now and again. Fortunately for me I have friends with whom I can share my feelings of hopelessness and regret and have someone actually listen. They may not be able to help, but they listen and sometimes, that is all that I need.
- My weight and my appearance – dear lord that is something that I have struggled with all my life. I have been ridiculed, made to feel less than and mocked for how I look both for my weight and my looks. For most of my life I have felt huge and awkward and clumsy and simply ugly. I now have a man in my life who tells me several times a day how beautiful I am and instead of arguing, I thank him and thank God for having someone who can show me parts of myself I haven’t seen and to show me my own beauty and worth. For once, I feel enough in someone’s eyes. And by him showing me parts of myself I have never appreciated or loved, I am starting to actually believe it for myself.
Given what I have learned by talking to people, I am not alone in my vulnerabilities. I know there are many people who share some of what I struggle with. Maybe it’s you. But doesn’t it just make us human and real? Do you ever feel inspired by someone who comes across as having their shit together and never struggling? By someone who is perfect and gorgeous and talented and never looks in the mirror and wonders if they are good enough or smart enough or capable enough? Who inspires you? The people who fall down and yet still get up and try again tomorrow. The people like Nick Vujicic, Brene Brown, my Grandma Simala, the client who has had her husband walk out on her and leave her devastated only to find herself a year later stronger and more capable, happy and living a life full of joy. These are the people who inspire us and make us see that maybe we can achieve what we aspire to. These are the people who help us see that through our struggles we can become what we dream of and who can show us our humanity and make us realize that we all share very common feelings, insecurities and vulnerabilities and that shame is such a waste of energy.
Today, I invite you to be vulnerable, even in small ways. Let people see those parts that you try to hide. Create the space to be vulnerable and real and let’s help dissolve those useless stigmas and shame that keep us apart and in judgment. They don’t serve anyone and only help to isolate and take away from who we are. It creates a disconnect among us. Today, allow the world to see who you truly are - imperfectly perfect and human.