This blog was originally published in 2016 on the former website and blog The Carry Camp which focused on supporting families struggling with infertility. However, this blog isn’t just for couples struggling with infertility, it is for everyone because we all experience shame and would all benefit from learning how to build resilience.
Shame is a sneaky gremlin that always catches us off guard. We are trying so hard to reach this one goal of building a family and still the question, “Am I doing enough?” hauntingly shrouds our thinking. Our friends and loved ones give advice with the best of intentions, but it may still cause us to feel shame. The simple activities that accompany infertility such as: trying to get pregnant, “stop” trying to get pregnant, testing, receiving (huge) medical bills, and the results. All these things can contribute to an identity of shame. We may not recognize it at the moment but that feeling of “not enough” begins to shape our identity; Of not having enough, of not doing enough, of not being enough.
First, let me set one thing straight before diving further into this subject. Guilt and shame are NOT the same things. Guilt says “I have DONE something wrong”. This speaks of doing something against our very nature, something we know better about and still choose to do it. Shame says “There IS something wrong with me”. I messed up because I am messed up. Guilt can be a healthy tool that is a part of the redemption process. Shame is a weight around our necks sinking us into pits of despair, anger, and isolation. Shame and guilt are not interchangeable.
There are many shame messages that come at us during our struggle with infertility. We are constantly questioning our actions, our hearts, and second-guessing it all over again. And the message we hear often of, “not enough” is evident. We hear this message subtly through conversations or blatantly through a family member. Shame happens; in this journey and frankly, throughout our lives. We can’t completely eliminate shame; it will somehow find a way to get to us because shame is what happens to us and not about our own sinful nature. However, we can become resilient to it. I have adapted this teaching from Brene Brown’s audio teaching “Men, Women, and Worthiness”. You can buy the full teaching on iTunes, Amazon or Audible. I highly recommend it. Here is a short summary of Brown’s shame resiliency steps.
I pray it will help us become more empathic, compassionate women in this or any difficult journey.
“The whole goal of shame resilience is to move from shame to empathy, to move from fear to courage, from blame to compassion, from disconnection to connection. The men and women who do this well, have four things in common. These are the elements of shame resilience:”Brene Brown
1. Recognizing Shame
We need to know when we are in shame. This is a big first step and maybe the most important. If this is the only thing you take away from this teaching, it’ll be life-changing. So how do we know when we are in shame? It’s biology. Did you know that shame actually has physical symptoms? Brown says that the feeling of shame is the same as trauma: When you have to slam on your brakes to keep from hitting the car in front of you, the survival part of your brain (known as the Amygdala) kicks into high gear. You know this as the “fight, flight, or freeze” zone. Here are a few physical systems that you can look for: Tunnel vision, tight chest, heart races, shaky hands, sweaty palms, hot flashes, tingling on the skin, time slows down, etc.
Question: What do you physically feel when you are in shame? “This is life-changing information. We are not fit for human consumption when we are in shame,” Brown states.
Once you are in survival mode, the Prefrontal Cortex goes completely offline; this is the reasoning part of your brain. At this point, we are not thinking. So what needs to happen from the time we realize we are in shame to then getting back on our emotional feet? First, when you realize you are in shame, DON’T DO ANYTHING. Don’t say anything, don’t email, text, or Facebook anything. Brown states that people in shame are dangerous, especially to those with less power: Our children, our employees, our students. You need to step away and find your emotional grounding again. Second, get your Prefrontal cortex back online. Some would say they need to take a walk, get alone for a moment (normally 10-15 minutes), take deep breaths. For Brown and myself, I know that I will have to cry in order to get my grounding again. A mantra that Brown says to herself is “Don’t shrink, don’t puff up, stand your sacred ground”. Don’t shrink, meaning don’t disappear or go into hiding. Shrinking can manifest as people-pleasing as well. Don’t puff up, don’t fight shame with shame. This can be any form of cruelty, anger, pride, or self-righteousness. Stand your ground, stay in your rightful space. Don’t get smaller or bigger than yourself. Stay in your sacred space: The space where you are fully loved and accepted by God.
2. Practice Critical Awareness.
Reality check the messages that fuel shame. When are you the most vulnerable? What are the shame messages that are being said? What expectations are being laid on you? What triggers shame for you? There are many categories: appearance, stasis, money, career, etc. But in this particular blog, the big trigger is motherhood and fatherhood. The messages that some of us hear are: “I am broken”, “I am not a real woman”, “I am not a real man”, “I don’t have enough faith”, “God doesn’t love me”, “I don’t deserve good things”. When we can reality check these messages, we can discern what is really true. Ignoring these messages is not enough. We need to first acknowledge them and then choose to believe something else. For example:
Shame message for me: “You don’t have enough faith. If you truly believed God would give you a baby then it would happen. This is my fault.”
Reality checking, “I acknowledge that I feel this message but I choose to believe that God does not work like a faith slot machine: if I give Him enough faith, He will give me what I want. This is a lie and I choose to continue to believe I have been given good things through Jesus and His work on the cross”.
Question: What shame messages do you hear? What triggers shame for you?
3. Reach Out
Tell your shame story to a friend. One who is comfortable with shame and can sit with you in it without getting uncomfortable about the topic. This is super important to understand when sharing your story. There are people who just want to fix it and throw the lights on, and say “Look, it’s OK now!” but then you feel shame for feeling shame! Avoid these people. Find those friends who can hold a compassionate space for you while you tell your story and are empathic. In telling our shame stories we don’t need to hear good advice, we need to hear “I get it”.
4. Speaking Shame – Calling shame, shame.
Not to be picky about the wording but Brown talks about how important it is to call shame for what it is. This came out of her research that people who develop shame resiliency call shame for what it is: shame. “It’s about exposing shame to the light…bringing out our darkness into the light.” (Brown)
Living wholeheartedly is ultimate goal of shame resiliency. It’s “about engaging with the world from a place of worthiness” (Brown). That yes, we make mistakes and yes, we could have done things differently with treatments or adoption or whatever. BUT we are also brave, and strong, and have great faith. We have wrestled with ourselves and with God, and we still choose to believe that through Jesus Christ, we are worthy of love and belonging. Nothing can change the fact that we are His children, fully accepted and adored by Him.
Need some support for your fertility journey? Check out the links below!
Fertility IQ has great information and researched data.