Not too long ago, and by that I mean last year, I wrote this here article on envy/jealousy. I spoke, with a somewhat accusatory tone, wrapping myself in the defense of also putting myself and my experiences and actions of envy, on blast. But the truth is that my ability to even do so, put “myself on blast” and write the article was because I thought I had reached there.
There being that higher ground of self awareness, where I could identify or at least admit to myself whenever envy or jealousy arose, where I could proclaim “this is where I am” on some high level buddhist shit. Yet months down the line, my high horse had a stroke. I once AGAIN (goddamn it) realized that being aware is not the master key I thought it was. Well, I mean… it is. It is the first, and very very important step. But what I mean is that sometimes, the knowledge alone won’t save you from the feeling. And if the feeling is the vehicle that drives the behavior, even if you had prior knowledge but allow the feeling - whether it is guilt, or shame, or envy, or jealousy - to overwhelm you, you’re still fucked.
Hey hey! Don’t throw stones at the messenger; I’m still on this ghetto island with the rest of you hoes. Anyway what brought me here is that recently, I had a misunderstanding with a friend (read a couple friends) and found myself reverting to old habits. Lashing out, not taking “sacred” pause (like my meditation app and Dr. Thema taught me) - because worris dat to an impatient Aries - and then of course in the end, being consumed by guilt, ruminating thoughts, and shame. My brain started telling me that this was the proof, of my unlovability, of my unworthiness. I couldn’t see beyond my shame, and my brain did its job by looking for every other instance that branded me unworthy.
And because I’m on this journey to understand, because I eventually realized that simply judging and punishing myself for my undesirable traits was unsustainable (not to mention leaving me deeply sad), my soul led me to studying shame. And it was, or has been rather - on this journey that things have started coming together, started making sense. It is on this journey that I began understanding that the reason why emotions like anger (my personal fave), why lashing out, why projecting, why avoiding and pretending, are easier emotions to access is because of the terrifying nature of shame. Imagine my surprise when I found out, thanks in part to the incredible work/teachings of researcher (and my bff in my head) Brene Brown, that I’m not alone. Hell, the rest of you hoes are on this table with me. Hi :) *petty wave
In better understanding and not just judging my shame triggers, I am starting to see that I often lash out when one of them has been hit. That in fact, the reason we hide and are reluctant to admit to feeling things like envy, instead of doing the work to cultivate safe spaces where we can talk about them, is because we are ashamed. Because we are terrified of feeling shame. Because shame makes us feel disconnected.
And if like me, you are more shame prone than guilt prone (I’ll explain the difference shortly) you too might look to avoidance as your savior. You might reach for more comfortable outlets like judgement or anger than admit to what you’re really feeling. It is difficult (and humbling) work. But it is worth it. It is worth it to know that there’s a difference between shame and guilt. That guilt is more “shit, I did something bad”, while shame is more “ I am something bad”. And as I mentioned earlier, it is easier to use other outlets than it is to succumb to the vulnerability of speaking about shame. Yet the thing about shame is that silence is exactly what it needs to grow - it makes us less open to giving or receiving empathy for whatever we are feeling.
One of my shame triggers for example, is being perceived as needy and not confident. (Shame is also so much more about how we think we are being perceived than anything else). See, growing up, my mom stressed the importance of confidence, where not being, was spoken of with more disdain than compassion. There was less emphasis on the “how” and more on simply “being”. I’m sure fellow Nigerians and Africans can relate. So whenever I didn’t feel too confident or whenever I behaved in ways I didn’t think displayed the confidence I assumed I should automatically possess, I felt ashamed. In fact, for a long time, I faked it. Now this is complex because the thing about acting “as if” is that it does rub off. So there’s something about the way I carry myself, where even when internally I’m not feeling confident, I could still be perceived as such; as intimidating, even. (So thank you mommy! “Don’t slouch, walk upright”. Walk with confidence”.)
Yet that internal part is integral to what I call ‘sustainable confidence’. Because the shame associated with not being can at times be so overwhelming, and because this is a character trait I know people expect from/associate with me, I silence myself, instead of opening up to my loved ones, my trusted ‘safe spaces’, about it. I deem myself undesirable and operate from that place of undesirability, utilizing judgement not only on myself, but also on others I think should be less loud, less blatant with their insecurities. But the truth is that we won’t always feel confident, we won’t always not be envious, or jealous, or any of the emotions we’re afraid to feel because we think it makes us undesirable and thus unworthy of love.
And so this long ass article is about the ‘how’, the antidote. Because unlike my last post, simply telling you not to lash out, or to “get to the root” is not enough. Because if you get to the root and what you encounter is shame, you will run - you will avoid. You will pick an emotion that is easier, that is more comfortable. So what I’m here to encourage you to try (believe it or not, it’s not easy and shut up, yes, I’m getting to it) is self compassion and self acceptance. Remember how I mentioned earlier that this is hard and humbling work? Yeah - you will be humbled to find out how much we judge and sometimes dislike ourselves. How difficult practicing self compassion can be, how much easier it is to judge and shame ourselves. How much, especially as Africans, shame has been reinforced (“you should be ashamed of yourself!”. Hell, Nigerians even have a physical expression - hand to mouth - for it). But we must try - we must try to accept all the parts of ourselves, not as a way to condone what we’ve deemed “bad behavior” but to practice self love, to understand that the journey is about being better, not being perfect.
Because the truth is that we are not only deserving of love when we are perfect, when we have gotten rid of every character trait we think makes us undesirable. Because we are complex, layered souls, “made entirely of flaws, stitched together with good intentions” (Augusten Burroughs). In fact, doing this work made me realize how envious I am of people that forgive themselves easily, because it means they’re able to not only accept, but see beyond their imperfections. And as someone who has a hard time forgiving, because all she sees when she realizes she’s wrong is her shame, this passage of Dr. Harriet Lerner’s “The Dance of Connection”, had me shook:
“We cannot survive when our identity is defined by or limited to our worst behavior. Every human must be able to view the self as complex and multidimensional. When this fact is obscured, people will wrap themselves in layers of denial in order to survive. How can we apologize for something we are, rather than something we did”?
Bihhhhhhhh! Color me shooketh!
We are deserving now, simply because we are. And it is only by understanding (trying our hardest not to judge, and being patient with ourselves even when we do judge) our shame triggers, and completely accepting ourselves that change can begin. I know many of us have been taught that shaming ourselves into good behavior is a quick way to change. And while it may be, the reality is that it is not sustainable. And in order to not be judgemental, we need self compassion. We need the kind of self acceptance and compassion that even allowed me to write this article and yet again, put myself on blast. Because I no longer need a high horse to say these things - my belief (although I sometimes forget) in my inherent worthiness, my ability to forgive and practice self compassion, my slow but sure belief in the idea that I am more than my worst traits, to see beyond my imperfections, makes me feel so much more comfortable, so much less self righteous about bringing this message to you. So say it with me:
I am worthy, now. I am deserving of love, simply because I am.