Shame and Empathy

In Al-Anon we keep the topics focused on the Steps, Slogans and Al-Anon Literature.  However, here I give myself permission to apply life’s lessons learned outside of Al-Anon and apply them to my program.  I’ve been reading a book by Brene Brown titled, “I thought it was just me but it isn’t.”

I choose to believe my Higher Power is working magic again by allowing me to find this book when I was ready to hear its message.  She talks about the difference between Shame and Guilt, as well as, the difference between Sympathy and Empathy.

I’m not sure how I lived four and a half decades not understanding I have been experiencing shame, but it turns out that is exactly what it is.  And what makes one person feel shame is not universal.  Another person might not be fazed by the exact same thing.  Shame is personal.  Shame is being rejected, hating yourself, true self-loathing and believing you deserve it.  Shame is a curl up into an invisible ball and hope no one ever finds out your secret type of feeling.  In my case one traumatic event that last only minutes has affected me for a lifetime.  An event I had no control over and one perpetuated by ongoing circumstance.  I wonder how my life would have been different had circumstance and that one event not happened.  But it did happen and I have to accept that I cannot change the past.

Prior to reading this book I used those terms shame, guilt, sympathy and empathy interchangeably.  But I won’t make that mistake going forward.  If you watch this 2 min 53 second animated short, Brene explains the difference beautifully here.

I know in my head that I am not alone.  I know this circumstance happens to other people even if the specifics are different.  But I also know it is not acknowledged or talked about as that would require vulnerability and admitting to another human being that we are not perfect.  I am not perfect.

Remember, I’m talking about shame here.  Not guilt, embarrassment, humiliation, but that I want to be invisible, just blend in and not be seen, that I don’t want anyone to know feeling and the only way to heal is to make a human connection by sharing that complete and total fear with someone [I trust] who may not understand, who may agree with the person who caused the shame.  Since shame is personal that person could diminish my feelings or make light of it and say oh it’s not that bad.  Or worse, if I choose the wrong person to trust could use that information against me.

In my heart I know that talking about it with others who can empathize will be the only way to heal.  I believe that is one of the great things about Al-Anon.  Al-Anon meetings facilitate talking about a shared common problem in a setting where everyone in the room can empathize with exactly what you are going through, even if the specifics are different.

Having someone say I’m sorry you’re going through that isn’t what I need.  I need someone to get in that boat with me and identify.  I need the connection that they too are dealing with this exact same issue.  Tell me what is working for them and what’s not working.  All I know is that silence isn’t working.

I haven’t finished Dr. Brown’s book yet but when I do I may come back and update this post.

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About Angela orAng4Short