I picked up Brené Brown’s book The Gifts of Imperfection mostly because of its subtitle: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are. In my Retirement Transition Journey, I am intentionally working on discovering who I truly am, versus continuing to behave as I believe I am expected to behave. And to answer the question, “Who am I without my work identity?” I do want to embrace the real me, but do I even like the real me?
In essence, this book is about shame and the fear of not being enough. I’m extremely familiar with the fear of not being enough, but not as familiar with shame. Brené Brown defines the opposite of shame and fear of not being enough as living whole-heartedly. Living wholeheartedly is letting go of who you think you are supposed to be and embracing who you really are, your authentic self. Embracing who you really are is also getting clarity on your gifts and talents as well as your imperfections.
How do I identify my authentic self? What do I believe are my gifts & talents and my imperfections? How do I let go of the fear of “what might people think” that drives my behavior? How do I believe that I am worthy of this life I am creating? How do I cultivate my unique talents? How do I rekindle my creative self? How do I start believing that I am enough? Some super tough questions!
Brené Brown defines being authentic as choosing:
1) Courage versus Fear – Letting go of what other people might think means having the courage to be imperfect (so challenging for a perfectionist!), the courage to be vulnerable to criticism, and the courage to say no and set boundaries.
2) Compassion versus Judgment – Practicing non-judgment of myself and of others. Recognize we are all doing the best we can.
3) Connection versus Feeling Alone – Realization that everyone has fears/worries. Practicing being a good friend.
A big part of understanding your authentic self is understanding your own shame triggers. Shame is the belief that we are flawed, not good enough, un-lovable, incompetent. Shame is about who we believe we are (never good enough), not about what we did or failed to do. The belief that people will not like me because I am not worthy of love and belonging. So, we judge. We are not compassionate – to ourselves or to others. “When we don’t give ourselves permission to be free, we rarely tolerate that freedom in others.” We put them down, make fun of them, ridicule them, and shame them. I’ve not given myself permission to look foolish – to sing out loud, to dance, to make art – so neither can you.
My shame triggers (similar to many people) include:
- Making mistakes, missing things, forgetting appointments or commitments. (Incompetence)
- Being self-indulgent, self-focused, appearing selfish or narcissistic. (Flawed)
- Being perceived as awkward, foolish, fat, and ungainly. (Not good enough)
- Not doing what is considered “the right thing to do.” (Flawed)
- The feeling that I have not had enough adversity, stress, or trauma in my life. I am not worthy because I have not suffered enough. [Yes, calling myself a cancer survivor feels disingenuous for me because my cancer was not that bad.]
Brown’s advice on how to manage shame: 1) Recognize it. Understand what triggers it. 2) Do a critical awareness-reality-check. Also, remember imperfect does not mean inadequate. 3) Share the story of the shameful experience with a trusted friend, the friend who responds with empathy and acceptance of you.
Brené Brown also spends time in her book on belonging and fitting in. It’s the primary reason why we try and be who we think we are supposed to be. I’ve spent my life trying to fit in! Assessing the situation and becoming who I need to be/what I need to do so that I am accepted. Seeking approval for my actions. Accommodating others needs. Acceptance & approval have been my key goals in life! (And yes, they still are.)
Yet Brown’s research would indicate that true belonging occurs when you are (and accept) your authentic (imperfect) self. “In order to feel a true sense of belonging, I need to bring the real me to the table and that I can only do if I‘m practicing self-love.” It’s the complete opposite of the approach I’ve taken which has been do what it takes to fit in, be accepted, and then I’ll like myself.
Bringing my real self to the table means I like myself first. Do I treat myself with respect, kindness, and affection? Do I have self-compassion – the embrace of my own human imperfection? How do I begin to believe that I am enough? How do I like myself?
Based on the book, here’s my plan to like myself more:
- Be Hopeful. Hopefulness is knowing where I want to go (realistic goals), being able to figure out how to get there (and flexibility to change paths, the persistence to try again), and believing I can do it (I can put in the effort).
- Know Thyself. Write down and acknowledge my gifts & talents and accept my imperfections. Have the courage to accept I’m not perfect.
- Cultivate Gratitude (a spiritual practice). Have an attitude of gratitude (gratitude lists), practice mindfulness, and believe in the body-mind-spirit connection.
- Live Joyfully. Create and recognize experiences that make me happy.
- Let Go of Comparison. I am no longer on the accomplishment-acquisition track. I do not need to ‘fit in’ anywhere (be like everyone else). I don’t need to compare, nor compete.
- Put Aside Judgment – Recognize we are all doing the best we can. People are human, make mistakes, and get in bad moods. Stop being critical about things.
- Create A Mind-set of Sufficiency. I have enough; there is enough. I am worthy of love and belonging right now. I am enough, today. Not if. Not when. Right now.
- Enjoy the Being. My worthiness is not linked to my busy-ness nor my level of productivity. I can create art (write, doodle, collage, play with beads) merely for the sake of creating. My blogging is inspiring, contemplative, connecting….thought-provoking!
- Just do it. Twice in this past week I was encouraged to look myself in the eye, in the mirror, and say, “I love you”. Every day until I believe it.
I’ve been doing many of these steps in my retirement transition journey. I need a lot more work on #’s 6, 7, 8, & 9. Perhaps I am on the way to liking myself, and feeling that I am enough.
Do you know your shame triggers? Do you like yourself? Or do you need to work on liking yourself (as I am doing)?