As I wrote about in a recent article, it is difficult for most of us to receive graciously. I’ve noticed that one of the major blocks to receiving is the sense of shame we carry.
Western society is governed in large part by the principle that if we’re not independent — that if we need anyone — it means something is wrong with us. Men have been especially trained to believe that they need to be the “rugged Individual” who can go it alone. In other words, we’ve been taught that there’s something shameful or pathetic about needing anyone.
I invite you to notice in your own experience the subtle ways that you might guard and protect your heart, even if you have a loving partner or caring friendships. When someone gives you a gift, offers praise, or does you a favor, do you let it in? Or does it trigger an uncomfortable, squirmy feeling, which makes you shut down or want to move away from the person?
Many of us carry a subtle, yet pervasive sense of shame when it comes to receiving. Here’s a short checklist to see if shame might be operating in your interactions with others.
- Do you feel comfortable asking favors?
- Are you inclined to not ask for help, such as asking for directions or for someone to pick something up for you at the store?
- Do you think it’s being weak to be a little vulnerable and let someone take care of you, such as asking for a shoulder massage or to just listen as you talk about a personal challenge?
- When someone gives you a compliment or gift, are you able to receive it graciously?
- When someone thanks you for something, are you able to let in their gratitude? Or do you quickly dismiss it, perhaps by saying, “no problem” or “it was nothing?”
The belief that there’s something shameful about needing anyone and letting in love and caring is belied by what we’ve learned from Attachment Theory. Humans are wired with a need for connection. We set ourselves up for loneliness and isolation when we cling to the belief that we should be able to be independent. We deprive ourselves of supportive human contact when shame — or our outdated belief system — blocks us from giving and receiving love and caring.
Being Mindful of Shame
Here are some ways to bring awareness to the shame you might be carrying, which is the first step toward healing it:
When someone does a kind act for you or offers a compliment, notice how that feels in your body. Does your breathing get constricted? Does your stomach feel tight or jittery? Notice if it’s uncomfortable to receive what is offered. Is shame operating? Do you somehow feel that you’re not deserving or that you’re bothersome?
If you do notice some sense of shame or embarrassment, can you allow that feeling to be there? Can you just be curious about it? As Carl Rogers reminds us, “The curious paradox is that when I can accept myself just as I am, then I can change.” Can you notice the shame without being ashamed of your shame? Shame can sometimes begin to shift or loosen its grip as we simply notice it.
Being human means to feel shame sometimes. Can you be gentle with it? Bringing a sweet kind of mindfulness toward our experience allows us to get some distance from it. Rather than merge with our shame or be controlled by it, we can simply notice it and normalize it. We have shame but it doesn’t mean we’re a shameful person. An important part of self-love is to give ourselves the gift of letting ourselves experience whatever we happen to be experiencing without concluding that there’s something wrong with us.
If you find it difficult to receive others’ kind acts, compliments, or caring, just be curious about that. What is that for you? Is there some subtle shame operating? Or some belief that you’re weak if you let in such kindness?
Noticing our blocks to receiving can allow them to soften, which might just open up a new world of deeper human connections.