Today’s thing that makes you feel like a bad person is kind of a doozy. For simplicity’s sake, I’m going to call it a shame-inducing event. But in your own mind you might call it making a big mistake. I’m not talking about a little thing, like you told a friend you liked her haircut when you really don’t. I’m talking about something bigger.
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Maybe you had an affair that hurt someone you loved. Or you spent a bunch of money you couldn’t really afford on something that wasn’t worth it. Maybe you wrecked your car. Or said something that really hurt someone else. Or you stole money from work, or got fired for messing up. Maybe it’s something that you did, or maybe it was something that someone else did to you. Experiencing trauma that was perpetrated by someone else and not necessarily something that you did. Because those traumatic events can absolutely make you feel like there’s something about you that brought this on.
Whatever it is, so very many of us have experienced something that makes us feel ashamed, and that shame can worm its way into your subconscious and make you feel like deep down inside, you are a bad person. Something that we’re scared that if people knew the truth about, we would be judged and shunned for.
Oh my goodness, let’s pause for just a minute and take a deep breath because this is deep stuff.
The only thing you have to do at this moment is just be willing to think about what your stories are that you fear might make you a bad person, and curious enough to see what might be possible if you got some resolution in your own mind about what those stories do or do not mean about what kind of a person you are.
Here’s where I want to say that I wish I could wave my magic wand and free us all of that secret fear that we’re bad people because of things that have happened in our past.
While I can’t do that, I can tell you that those things you feel ashamed of don’t classify you as good or bad. In fact they can be excellent teachers. My dad always used to tell me, wisdom comes from experience, and experience comes from making mistakes. None of us gets through this life without having to make hard decisions and having things turn out in a way that we wished it hadn’t.
While I wouldn’t wish a shame-inducing event on anyone, they can be a path to wholeness
As they are an opportunity to lovingly accept the parts of you that you may wish you could lop off.
Of course I can’t talk about shame-inducing events without talking about Brene Brown, not only because she is well known as a researcher of shame–which is the emotion that so often accompanies these mis-steps and that tries to convince us that we’re –but also because her work is so great and so helpful.
In her book Daring Greatly, Brown says:
“When we deny our stories, they define us.
When we run from struggle, we are never free.”
Meaning, when we don’t accept the part of ourselves and the things we’ve experienced that make us feel unlovable and unworthy, we only perpetuate our suffering.
There is good news here is that the way out of shame is to own your story
Shameful parts and all, and share it in whatever capacity makes sense and feels safe to you.
I once shared a story I had felt shame about for three decades at the Rhode Island statehouse in a packed room at 1am; it was in support of the Reproductive Health Care Act that would protect a woman’s right to choose when to become a mother in the state should Roe V. Wade be overturned. My voice shook, but I walked out of that room a different person. So much freer. And so much less scared about being found out for making a decision about my life and my body that women are so often made to feel ashamed about.
When I shared my story that night, I experienced what Brene Brown describes when she says:
“We craft love from heartbreak,
compassion from shame,
grace from disappointment,
courage from failure.”
Admittedly, it was a big step, but I was supported by the fact that there were dozens of other women there to share their stories, too, and that my speaking up had the potential to help other Rhode Island women now and in to the future have the legal autonomy to make their own decisions about their reproductive health. In addition to owning your story, being in community and being of service are two great ways to support yourself on your way out of shame over your big mistakes.
Daily Tiny Assignment
Your tiny assignment is to think about a step that feels good and right to you in terms of owning the story about the thing that makes you feel the worst about yourself. Can you write it in a diary? Share it with a spouse or a friend? With a therapist or coach? You certainly don’t have to share it in a podcast or at the state house, ha ha ha! Those were the avenues that were available to me and so I took them. You only have to do what feels right to you in terms of finding a way to bring those things you try to hide into the light, so that you can craft compassion from shame and grace from disappointment.
And if you need help, I adored Brene’s book Daring Greatly. How vulnerable she is in sharing her own stories of times she felt shame is very inspiring, and her research makes these murky psychological concepts so clear.
Before I go, I’d love to know, what things make you worry you’re a bad person?
Shoot me an email at beabetterpersonpodcast.com or DM me on Instagram @katehanleyauthor, and I’ll do an episode around them if I can. ALSO, I just launched the Am I a Bad Person quiz on katehanley.com, which is a very light-hearted look at those things we do that we may or may not have good reason to feel bad about later. Again, you can find the quiz at katehanley.com.