Smashing the Shame Story
I’ve lived with a shame story for most of my life. This particular story took form in my childhood and its roots grew deep and strong as I matured. I fed this shame story and gave it life by believing it and living as though it were true. As a result I limited myself and made myself and my life smaller than it could’ve been. I felt disconnected from myself and others because I turned my power over to this story. Even though I’ve known for many years that this shame had a hold on me, I couldn’t pull it out at its roots because I believed it to be true. As the years went on and I started to do my inner work, I slowly poked holes in my shame story and I was able to see that it wasn’t true at all, yet even though I knew on an intellectual level the story wasn’t true, it still had power over me because it still felt true in my body.
Recently, I could feel that my body was shedding this shame story, that something within me decided it was time to let it go. Once it left my body, I felt freer and lighter than I have in years. I can’t point to one event or action that helped me shed this story. It's been an ongoing process of ingesting other people’s truths that helped me to find my own truth palatable, shedding other mistaken beliefs and accepting myself for who I truly am. The more I accepted myself, the less compatible the shame story was with the person I’m becoming.
The shift that has occurred in my life as a result of smashing this shame story is profound. I can now hold the shattered pieces of this story up to the light and see all the ways it played out in my life and how it affected disparate parts of my life that on the surface aren't at all related. The story wielded control over how I felt about myself, how I related to others, and how and if I pursued my passions. I’m still unpacking all of the ways my shame story affected my life and I likely will be for quite some time, but I can say that it touched virtually all areas of my life in a negative way.
I’ve even felt a shift in how I feel about my work. I used to dread work because I believed it was the thing that was keeping me from pursuing my passions. I counted down the hours until the work day would end and I would be free to do the things I loved. I turned my job into a prison thinking it was the one thing that was keeping me from being the person I wanted to be. If only I had more time, meaning less time at work, I could be all the things I wanted to be. Once I shed the shame story, I noticed that I began enjoying work. I could find meaning, purpose and fulfillment in it which had always eluded me.
For many weeks I couldn’t figure out why this change in how I experienced my work was tied to my shame story even though I could feel in my bones that the two were linked. I finally realized that my shame story kept me living in a prison of my own my own making that I was always trying to escape from without knowing how to do so. As we are wont to do, I looked outside of myself for the thing I believed was keeping me feeling trapped in this prison. I wanted freedom and I believed that the thing that was keeping me feeling trapped was my job, not the shame story that held me captive. If only I didn’t have this job, I thought, I would be free to pursue my passions, free to spend my time how I wanted to, free to find the thing that would give my life meaning and purpose. I realize now that I was projecting this lack of freedom in my life onto my job. Instead of looking inside of myself to find what might be imprisoning me, I projected this feeling of being held captive onto my job. In smashing my shame story, I released myself from my self-imposed prison so I no longer need this feeling of freedom to come from something outside of myself. I’ve freed myself and in the process freed my work as the thing that was keeping me from living my life to the fullest.
My freedom was never tied to my work, it was always tied to my shame. I’ve long been chasing retirement because I believed it would give me the freedom I yearned for and I believed that freedom would lead me to the thing that would make me feel fulfilled and give my life purpose. Looking outside of myself for my freedom only lengthened my imprisonment. In freeing myself, my life has become larger. I now feel passion and purpose in my work where for years there was none. The passion and purpose now comes from within me. I’m finding new passion in many areas of my life.
Even the fact that I’m now calling it my work, rather than my job is evidence of this shift. I can now see that my work allows me to fulfill many of my passions: using my intellectual curiosity, helping others and making meaningful change in the world. This is a paradigm shift in my life. I feel like I’m tasting freedom for the first time in years after what could've easily become a life sentence had I not done the work to smash my shame story.
I share this story as a cautionary tale. Beware of the negative and self-limiting stories you tell yourself because the step from telling to believing is quite small and often we take that step without even knowing we’re doing it. It's far easier to plant these self limiting stories than it is to tear them out at the roots, so it's best not to plant them at all.