Not Everyone Deserves To Hear Your Shame Story
I sit comfortably beside my longtime friend who invited me for a book launch and as we wait for the activities to commence, people were still making small talk, moving around. Consequently, there was time to gossip, but I weigh the risks of opening up to her even about the most trivial drama and kept our conversations superficial. She asked about me about work and I was tempted to vent to her, to tell her about my KPIs and the usual stories around drudgery of work life. But after many years of getting burned by her insensitive comments, I am learning restraint. I respond by asking her about her own business. She says ‘ we thank God o.’ NO DETAILS.
We while away another half-hour talking about different things. I focused on trending social topics on the internet and kids’ food preferences.
As I drove home, I thought about how we can be right next to our lifelong friends and never say important things. Another mutual friend called later that day and I related everything I failed to tell the other friend, she teased me for my ‘wahala’ and also shared examples that helped me without making feel like I was silly for being exhausted.
The truth is there are people who do not deserve to hear our shame story, not because they are bad friends, but because it is challenging to practise compassion when people are struggling with their authenticity.
In some cases, It may also be the wrong time to share because they may desire the things you are miserable about and hence refuse to relate to your story making them find ways to communicate this resentment using dear uncle ‘sarcasm.’
According to Dr Brene Brown who developed the Shame Resilience Theory, this theory is a grounded theory based on building resilience to shame by connecting with our authentic selves and growing meaningful relationships with people we trust. It also involves moving towards empathy, courage, connection and compassion and away from fear, blame and disconnection.
Over here are examples of people you should not share your shame story with:
- The friend who hears the story grasps in horror, then embarrassing silence. They may never reference that issue again, and you are conveyed with the odd feeling of sorrow after the conversation.
- The friend who can’t help because you have let her down, she put you on a pedestal, you were the epitome of all that is good, now you show her that you are just like the rest of us, not unblemished, struggling.
- The friend you should never burden with your secrets, she is incapable of keeping it to herself without embellishing it and sending it across town, beautiful gift wrapped in exaggeration, yet oddly she conceals her own secrets in safe custody.
- The friend who is uncomfortable with vulnerability. She is distressed, how could you permit this to happen? This friend causes you to feel like you failed for allowing your husband to get away with ‘nonsense,’ for forgiving your office rival, for pretty much breathing.
- The friend who desires you to remain the pillar of authenticity. She would brief you of one million ways you could have resolved things better, how you are stronger than ‘this’.
- The friend who confuses connection as an opportunity to one-up you: you can’t win with her, for every one example, she has at least 10 of her own.
In her second book, the Gifts of Imperfection, Dr Brown says we are all capable of being the above-mentioned friends at different points in our lives and with different people.
Who should you share with?
- Share with the people who have gained the right to hear your story. A friend told me how in a vulnerable moment she had told a work colleague that she would resign. This person then cautioned her against making statements like that in anger. By the next day, people were calling her ‘ I gathered you want to resign, what happened?’. For the next one week, she received tons of unsolicited advice, and relations between her and her boss didn’t get better. She felt messed up and violated after that episode because she shared with the wrong person.
- Share with people whom you are in a relationship with that is strong enough to bear the weight of the story, people who can provide thoughtful and empathetic answers.
Vulnerability means to take an emotional risk, to open yourself up to being critiqued for your life’s choices, for your work. People mistake it for weakness thereby associating it with shame. But whatever your shame story, it can be unburdened when you share with the people who deserve to hear it.