Sharing our story can be a powerful antidote to shame and insecurity
by Emily Johnson
I believe in the healing power of sharing your story, especially when sitting with feelings of shame and insecurity. Throughout my journey with an eating disorder, I have found that feelings of shame, guilt and instability are the drivers behind most of my unhealthful behaviors. When I really dig deep, and am willing to see why I reacted a particular way or spiraled into past patterns, at the heart of my “why” lies a well of these painful and uncomfortable emotions.
I have found that one of the hardest, yet most healing things to do with these emotions is to share them and the stories connected to them. One of my favorite authors Brené Brown (a research professor who has spent the past 16 years studying courage, vulnerability, empathy, and shame) writes: “If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can’t survive.”
When we can express and shine light on these feelings and their stories we can let them go, instead of carrying them around with us and allowing them the power to guide our actions and inner beings.
Sharing with someone who is safe
It’s taken me a long time to become conscious of how important it is to share these stories and emotions with someone or in a place that is supportive. Many times I have opened myself up to the wrong person, to be met with comments or responses that have fed the entanglement of shame and alienation. I only started to see how this pattern had taken affect after reading Brené Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are, where I learned that revealing our shame stories in the wrong space is like pouring salt on the wound (2010, p. 10). While it’s healing to process the inner storm through sharing and letting go, we may not always have access to someone we can trust to connect with.
Befriending the blank page
During my time as a creative writing student, I came to befriend the blank page. It took a lot of work to push past the self-driven voices of fear, judgment, and comparison to allow my own voice to emerge. It emerged as an unraveling, through dribs and drabs of small truths peeking through the magical-realist lives of characters in the short stories I wrote.
One of my characters, a grieving young girl from the coastal village of Aries replaces her meals with water and cups of salt, purchasing the salt in secret after having already consumed the household stores. She wisps by as a thinning figure, a ghost of indigo hue, her flaking skin leaving behind a perpetual trail of granules like a fine sand. I have always found comfort in symbolism, poetry and allegory.
Making amends with my diary
In the past, I have found the concept of personal diaries challenging, feeling voiceless without the mask of a symbol. Many times, after great inner battles I’ve written my thoughts and emotions as purely as I can and have felt so exposed, ashamed and terrified of judgment that I have destroyed the writing and packed away the diary. There it would sit, stored away until a spark of courage and curiosity led me to draw it out and try again, even if all I could write were fragmented and incomplete sentences.
I’ve come to accept and make amends with this erratic relationship I have with my personal diary. This space where I can speak with, and allow myself to see myself,in the darkest and brightest of hours.
I am inspired by Elizabeth Gilbert (2007, p. 55), who writes in her memoir Eat, Pray Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything:
“I don’t know what to do, and I’m spiraling in panic, like I always spiral when I don’t know what to do. So what I do for tonight is reach for my most private notebook, which I keep next to my bed in case I’m ever in emergency trouble. I open it up. I find the first blank page. I write: “I need your help.” Then I wait. After a little while, a response comes, in my own handwriting: I’m right here. What can I do for you? And here recommences my strangest and most secret conversation. Here, in this most private notebook, is where I talk to myself. I talk to that same voice I met that night on my bathroom floor when I first prayed to God in tears for help.”
When feeling in the dark, I write affirmations
The times I’ve been struggling with my weight and mental health the most are also the times I have been most in the dark about my true self, emotions and values. These are also the times when I feel most silenced and closed-off, with the least amount of clarity. When I’m in this space of silence and am searching for a sense of my own deeper truth to hold on to, finding the opening to write can seem impossible. During these times, I apply the lessons I learned from the inspirational teacher and author Louise Hay. I write in affirmations by listening into the ego, and inner dialogue. Some of my favorite affirmations are:
- All is well, I trust in the rhythm and flow of life
- I let go and embrace this moment
- I deeply love and accept myself
- I let go of all unforgiving and love and accept all beings
- I am spiritually connected to all of life
Transforming the messages for healing and growth
Whatever tape is playing, be it be one of self-criticism, judgment, fear, or shame, I transform it. I re-write the message to ones of compassion, self-acceptance, safety and self-love or forgiveness. This is a very powerful activity and somehow seems to be a gentler way of leaning into the discomfort and finding the opening. There can be great healing and growth if we can edge in and find the strength to open ourselves.
In her book The Wisdom of Sundays, Oprah Winfrey (2017, ch. 7) writes: “Challenges provide opportunities that force us to search for a new center of gravity. Don’t resist. Resistance only causes more struggle. You can’t win if you’re fighting the truth. Instead, persist in finding and letting it break you open.” Whether we reach that opening through story and poetry, a letter, affirmations, fractured sentences, or a comprehensive diary entry, it is all-okay. Just find it, because when we open into and examine the brokenness resting in the darkness, the healing can begin.
About Emily: Emily is passionate about and has been studying literature and the creative arts at the University of the Sunshine Coast. She has participated in Roses in the Ocean Voices of In-Sight a not-for-profit collective engaging the power of story and lived experience with a vision to prevent suicide, and Peripheral Arts, an organization focusing on artistic and creative ways to evoke the well-being of communities. She hopes that sharing her journey and ideas help to nurture connections with others that support healing and full-hearted living.
Brown, B. (2012). The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are. Minnesota: Hazelden Publishing.
Gilbert, E. (2007). Eat, Pray Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything. London: Bloomsbury Publishing.
Hay, L. (1999). You Can Heal Your Life. Sydney: Hay House.
Winfrey, O. (2017) The Wisdom of Sunday’s: Life Changing Insights From Super Soul Conversations. Pan Mcmillan.