How to get free from the shackles of shame

“You either walk inside your story and own it, or you stand outside your story and hustle for your worthiness” Dr. Brené Brown

I was eight when I started at my fourth primary school.

I wasn’t worried about fitting in or making friends. I was confident, chatty, adaptable.

Pretty soon I was friends with two sisters. They invited me to their home after school – a clear sign of firm friendship in my eight year old world.

A day or two later the bombshell came. My two new besties told me we couldn’t stay friends. Their parents had told them so.

Looking for the ‘bad’

My eight-year-old mind could only imagine what was wrong with me. Maybe it was because I go to a church and that made me bad (they did go to church – they were Jehovah’s Witnesses); maybe I had behaved badly or had bad manners; maybe it was because my family didn’t have the right kind of house or car, we weren’t as well-off, or as ‘good’, as they were.

Whatever it was, I knew it meant they were somehow ‘good’ and  I was somehow ‘bad’. And if I wanted to keep friends in future, I needed to become more like them – less me. So that’s what I did.

Looking back, I can see the ways I applied that unconscious strategy for acceptance through school, work, and life: Trying to be like the people I wanted to be liked by, or at least be as likeable as I could be. Doing what others were doing, or at least what others expected me to do. Hiding my flaws and imperfections… putting approval before authenticity.

The things we are most afraid of

I’ve been reflecting on that memory and how it has influenced my life after listening to a Magic Lessons podcast interview between host Elizabeth Gilbert and researcher/writer Dr. Brené Brown.

During the interview, Elizabeth Gilbert proffered (a view previously put to her by a therapist): “… the thing that you are most afraid of has already happened.”

Brené Brown agreed. She said her research around shame had found 85 per cent of people remembered an event in school that was so shaming it changed how they thought of themselves for the rest of their lives. For many, it stopped them living their dreams, too afraid of failure or judgement.

I wondered if there had been a moment like that for me? I’d wager that if there was, it was that rejection. I felt shamed, unworthy, cast out, not enough.

The true source of shame

Now I can see that the person who actually ‘shamed’ me was me. The ending of the friendship didn’t make me unworthy or bad. I could have said ‘that’s their thing, it’s not about me’. Instead, the shaming came from the made-up story I created, that I was not enough. That I would never be enough so long as I kept just being me.

What a gift it is to see that now.

If it’s my own voice that told me I must meet others’ expectations, it’s now my own voice that can tell me to follow my own dreams.

That’s the voice I choose to listen to now.

That is the voice that has pushed me on this week as I lean into the crazy dream I’ve had to create a global website cultivating social good, starting from scratch a few days ago and delivering it this side of Christmas.

The risk of failure is real. If I looked for the approval of others before deciding whether to do it, I never would have.

But the voice that cares more about my dreams than approval, says ‘let’s do this fantastic thing!’

Selling the impossible

So I’ve been talking with my closest friends and confidants, listening to their challenges and thinking about how we solve them, talking with web design agencies, and selling the ‘impossible’ to them more confidently and passionately than I’ve ever sold anything before.

Guess what? It’s working.

I have investors wanting to back me. I have met with three Wellington-based website developers who love the idea, would love to be part of it, and think they just might be able to deliver it ahead of Christmas. Hopefully by the end of tomorrow I will have three web development proposals in front of me.

It’s going to happen.

And it’s happening because at last I am owning my own story, my own worthiness, and my unrealised dreams.

It is a much kinder, more beautiful, more exciting place to be.


  • I highly recommend listening to Elizabeth Gilbert’s interview with Dr. Brené Brown on the podcast Magic Lessons – a thought-provoking conversation on creativity and how our self-perceptions limit us if we let them.
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