In our culture there is no shortage of books on self-esteem. Currently the most popular topic in the self esteem department is shame and vulnerability. You will often hear women using words such as brave, daring, great, and imperfect. Thanks Brene!
For Lent my church has been reading “Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life” by Richard Rohr and I belong to a book group that is reading “The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are; Your Guide to a Wholehearted Life” by academic researcher Brene Brown. Both books discuss similar topics but in much different ways. I am only part way through both books, but I’ve already noticed some important differences between the two.
I’m thankful for Brown’s material on shame becoming popular and mainstream. Shame is not an emotion we have been taught to recognize, address and eliminate when necessary. Because of Brene Brown’s popularity, her research and media appearances have shown society the damage that comes from living a life of constant shame. Her book and her talks on the Oprah network have been great for helping people who have issues with their own sense of shame, but I find her work is seriously lacking in helping people recognize when they shame others or stifle the vulnerability of others. As I’ve mentioned in past blog posts, when people are hurt, they tend to hurt others. I wish her book had dedicated some space to dealing with this truth. If you are not able to take ownership for the shame and hurt that you impose onto other people; then you are not really living the wholehearted life that Brown has been teaching.
It’s important to be able to list all the wonderfully great things about ourselves, but we have to remember we are human. Our list of self descriptions need to include both the positive and the negative. As Brown likes to remind us, we are all imperfect. Am I a kind person? Yes I am. But I also know that I am impatient, which means that at times I can also be an unkind person. Does this make me a bad person? No. It simply means I am human and need to be able to recognize when I hurt others and make any necessary amends.
Richard Rohr’s “Falling Upward” goes deeper than Brown’s work. This might be because he is a Franciscan priest which makes it nearly impossible for him not to delve deeply into human behaviour. He makes it clear to readers that our inability to accept that challenges in our lives are a necessary part of being human is what helps to create the “unnecessary suffering” so many people experience. He references Carl Jung in stating, “he said neurotic behaviour is usually the result of refusing that legitimate suffering! Ironically, this refusal of the necessary pain of being human brings to the person ten times more suffering in the long run.”
Feelings and emotions are complex. Unfortunately, there is no easy way to experience change or transformation; we must accept the fact that the process is uncomfortable at times and requires life long work. Those who suffer from addictions never claim to have been cured or free from their addictions; they know that at any time they could easily fall back into old habits and coping mechanisms. I feel this is how we should view personal change; never fool yourself into believing you’ve got everything figured out.