You know this to be true: deep down there is something wrong with you. Thankfully this is hidden from everyone because if they knew, they wouldn’t want anything to do with you and you would be left all alone.
I know you feel this way because everyone feels this way. The feeling is shame: the belief that “we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.”* Shame is the feeling in the pit of your stomach that you’re unwanted, not accepted, not okay. Feeling shame is the opposite of feeling loved.
If you’re like me, the feeling of shame has been so painful and terrifying for you that, in response, you learned to instinctively hide the parts of yourself that feel shameful. You learned not to let who you really are be seen because who you really are is not good enough for people to love you.
The prospect of being left all alone — loved by no one, wanted by no one — is a haunting darkness that we’ll escape at any cost. We’ll show people what we think they want to see, tell them what we think they want to hear. We’ll present an edited, sanitized version of ourselves that leaves out many of our real fears, struggles, and insecurities.
Maybe you’ve experienced this. You’ve slowly developed trust with someone, gradually inching open the door to your heart, your inner sanctum. One day, you take a risk. You tell that person about something that feels shameful. This feels like handing them a knife and waiting to see if they’ll stab you. It feels vulnerable. Your secret fragility is exposed. They could break you. If you’re lucky like me, they don’t.
Instead, you find out that you can be truly seen, fully seen, and still loved. Loved completely — every part of you. You find yourself being embraced, appreciated, even cherished. For the first time in a long time, maybe ever, you and another person are really there together. That’s what it’s all about. That’s what a human soul is for.
Remaining hidden is tempting. It’s as instinctive as a fear of the dark. But by hiding, we don’t avoid being alone. We guarantee it. We make ourselves alone inside our own heads. Fearing that we can’t be loved, and never giving anyone the chance.
*This is shame researcher Brené Brown’s definition. For more about Brené Brown’s research into shame, check out her TED Talk, her book I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn’t), or her incredible audio release The Power of Vulnerability. You can find a therapist trained in Brené Brown’s shame resilience methodology at The Daring Way.