Shame. What comes to mind when you hear that word? If you were to paint a picture that depicted shame, what would it look like? Would the sun be shining in that painting? Birds singing? Unicorns jumping over rainbows? Probably not.
Shame is an ugly word. Disgusting. Even the way it drops off the tongue sounds beastly…SHAME!
So, you can imagine my immense pleasure when my counselor, in just our second meeting, suggested that good ol’ shame and I might just be long time buddies…old friends who’d been joined at the hip for years. Really? Shame and me? When did that happen?
Before I go on, I think it’s important to take a moment to set the record straight on a few things about shame. First, shame is NOT synonymous with guilt. They’re not siblings…more like 3rd or 4th cousins. As my counselor says, shame’s defined as “painful feelings that come with the belief that there is something inherently wrong with you…Shame and guilt are similar in that they are each a reaction to a mistake. They are different in that guilt focuses on the action, where shame focuses on the person.” So when a mistake’s made, guilt would say: “That was stupid.” Shame, on the other hand, would say “I’m stupid.”
Secondly, shame’s not partial to one sex over another. It loves to latch onto both men and women, and that’s important to acknowledge. I know many guys who don’t believe this. They think shame’s a thing that only women confront. Not true. It’s time, men, that we too take a look in the mirror and admit that we’re also susceptible to shame’s friendship. Brush off the “never show weakness” facade and get real for a minute. Realize we don’t always have it together…and that’s ok.
So what does all this have to do with photography? For me, it has nearly everything to do with it.
In May of this year, shame and I met again right before an in-home art show at my friend Meggie’s house. She was raising money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and graciously offered me the opportunity to showcase my artwork at her house. And all was fine, until the night of the exhibit…until I hung a bit of myself on her walls for people to see, judge and value–based on their bids and offers (or lack thereof).
But that night, I didn’t see them valuing the quality of the photography, or the medium it was on, or the frame it was placed in. I saw them valuing me. Shame came to the party with me.
Fortunately, shame didn’t leave with me that night.
More than a year of counseling has helped me find ways to find shame’s covertness, as have some helpful authors like Brené Brown who talks specifically about this phenomenon in her book “Daring Greatly.” The following section seems to be written specifically for/about me:
You’ve designed a product or written an article or created a piece of art that you want to share with a group of friends. Sharing something that you’ve created is a vulnerable but essential part of engaged and wholehearted living. It’s the epitome of daring greatly. But because of how you were raised or how you approach the world, you’ve knowingly or unknowingly attached your self-worth to how your product or art is received. In simple terms, if they love it, you’re worthy; if they don’t, you’re worthless.
And so here’s the tough part for me. Because I have a tendency to attach my self-worth to the piece I’ve created, I’m likely to hide away in the corner and not share it at all. Or, if I do share it, I find a way to make it less risky for me by stripping off some of the creative edges that really make it daring.
It’s a scary thing to put it all out there. Because for me, if my gift’s not received with the excepted reception, it’s like a kick to the stomach. It’s no good, and I’m no good.
But I’m trying. With this blog right here, I’m trying to counter that kick with a punch of my own—right to the Adam’s apple of the voice in my head. My self-worth should not be handed over to other people’s wavering critiques and opinions. Not even yours. I am “far more than a painting, an innovative idea, an effective pitch, a good sermon, or a high Amazon.com ranking,” as Ms. Brown puts it. My art’s about creating what I was created to create. It’s about what I do, not who I am.
I may just need to tell myself that again and again and again and again.
So why do I share all this? Partly for me. It’s good self-therapy for me and something good for me to revisit when shame comes back (which may be right after I publish it). But maybe it’s for someone else too. You? Maybe you too struggle with shame and might find some comfort in knowing you’re not alone.
I’d love to hear your stories if you’re willing to share. Thank you for hearing mine.