I’ve spent the past couple months working my way through Brené Brown’s I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn’t). This book was published three years prior to The Gifts of Imperfection and is more focused on shame and women. While I flew through Gifts, I Thought It Was Just Me has taken a bit more time to read. I think that could be because it’s exposing an enormous shame trigger. If Dr. Brown is correct and empathy is indeed the antidote for shame, then the only way for me to get some manner of lasting victory, or at least resilience, is to put it out there.
One of my more vivid childhood memories takes place on the bus ride to school. I was wearing my aqua bike shorts with the lighter patterned inset stripe on each side. (Remember when wearing shiny spandex bottoms was cool? Eek.) Anyway, I was sitting on the edge of one bench with my legs stretched across the aisle, feet resting on the neighboring bench. I remember looking down at my legs and hating them. They looked so thick to my little girl brain. Mind you, I have photos of myself in those shorts. There was absolutely, positively nothing wrong with my legs. They were not disproportionately big. But at that time I believed with all my heart that they were.
I began hating my body as a child and to be honest, I’ve never really stopped.
This hatred affected me in varying ways. It made me self-conscious enough that being cut from a basketball team the first time I had to go through a try-out led me to give up playing organized sports for good. Once that happened, I actually did begin getting bigger and spent the better part of about fifteen years being overweight. I can’t count the number of experiences I missed out on in my teens and twenties for reasons that link back to this hatred. I wouldn’t wear shorts. I wouldn’t swim. I wouldn’t play sports. I let boys treat me poorly. I allowed people in my life who weren’t good for me. I avoided any situation that I felt I could not adequately hide myself within. Looking back, I am so sad for all I gave up.
Around my 30th birthday, I got seriously and terrifically tired of feeling trapped in my own body. I radically changed my eating habits and lost over 30 pounds. I was finally able to look at the scale when the doctor weighed me at my annual physical. I began buying shorts and dresses. I went kayaking and rollerblading with friends. I laid out in the sun on the beach in Florida. I became a runner (although it took three or four tries before the habit finally stuck). Today I’m starting my sixth week of the Insanity workout program and when I look at things objectively, I am astounded at what the body I’ve hated for so long is now able to do.
But that’s the trouble. I am very rarely able to look at myself objectively. My body image swings on a pendulum and sometimes I wonder how I’ve avoided an eating disorder with the way it so frequently and drastically shifts. I’ve had some rare moments of calm, tastes of what it feels like to be comfortable in my own skin, and I crave more of that feeling. But how? I look at all the things I dislike about my body and try to figure out how to fix them…this part’s too big, this part’s too small, this part’s too soft, this part’s too…you get the point. It’s endless.
“Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of acceptance and belonging.” -Brené Brown
I know this is shame talking, telling me I’ll never be good enough and asking who I think I am to suppose I could be. I also know I’m created in the image of God and he is more than enough! So I’m declaring war on this shame trigger of mine. As I continue to care for this God-given body, working to feed it correctly and exercise it appropriately, it will continue to change for the better. And as I shine a light on shame’s tactics, its effectiveness in my life diminishes…and hopefully diminishes in your life as well as you realize that you’re not alone in your battle with shame.
So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. Then God looked over all he had made, and he saw that it was very good! (Genesis 1:27, 31)
So here’s to vulnerability. To courage and compassion. To recognizing that God made us and made us well. To story sharing. To developing shame resilience. To authenticity!