A while back I had a phone conversation with a good friend. He’s the kind of person who likes to go deep, quickly. If he asks how you are, he really wants to know, and nothing but the truth will do.
So we’re talking and sharing, and we transition to a fairly painful topic and I lead with “Ugh, it’s so hard to talk about this.” He pauses for a moment and says the words I won’t soon forget: “You know, it’s our hard and vulnerable stories which release others from shame. We shouldn’t take that lightly.”
It was like a light bulb went off, and it changed the way I viewed my own vulnerable stories ever since.
Make the Dark Small
Life is messy. Emotions are complicated. We all know this.
Yet, we so very often feel as though we’re alone in our mess. The things we are dealing with are unique, and our mistakes are so much worse than anyone else’s.
Quite simply, we feel shame.
People can tell you you’re being silly, that it’s really not that bad. But we all know how that goes: we can’t let it go. We just can’t forgive ourselves.
When we hear another’s messy story, when we witness their vulnerability and pain, it can’t help but lighten our own load as we relate to what they are going through.
We feel empathy. We no longer feel alone. We feel seen in our messiness and heartache.
And in the same way, sharing our own hard, vulnerable stories spare others shame.
One of the most powerful, though maybe lesser-known, lines in fiction comes from the Dean Koontz book, Brother Odd. Odd Thomas wisely says, “That is the best of all things we can do for one another: Make the dark small.”
It’s compelling in it’s simplicity, and in it’s truth. When someone is hurting, the best we can do is find some way to ease their darkness and pain. Sharing our own hard stories can do just that.
An antidote to shame
Shame thrives in secrecy. Shame would love for you to believe because of this experience, you are unlovable and unworthy of connection with others.
Speaking the words and sharing your story is an almost instant antidote to shame. Shame simply can’t survive amidst openness and empathy.
I find this true time and time again. When I’m feeling shame about something, simply sharing my feelings with a trusted friend does wonders. I may still feel guilt about the incident, but that’s okay. Guilt can be productive and helpful, shame never, ever is.
It may sound counterintuitive, but our vulnerable stories have value and can bring healing to others, if we’ll let them.
And if that’s not enough, sharing these hard experiences can be tremendously freeing for us, as well.
As I’ve talked about before, we just can’t live this life well without connection to others. It’s a key component of being human.
We’re social creatures and we need each other, deeply. Vulnerability is intrinsically linked to connection. It’s a driving force. No matter how hard we try, we just can’t do one without the other. I know, I’ve tried.
Our painful experiences can help facilitate this.
One story at a time.