I hung up the phone standing in a parking lot outside one of my work offices. My stomach felt tight. I couldn’t believe this was happening… again. I just broke up with my boyfriend. Yet, the feeling I was riddled with was not grief or heartache. It was one I was quite familiar with, yet my least favorite, shame. I was full of shame and my throat felt so tight it was almost hard to catch my breath. How could I have let this happen? I felt sick.
Shame didn’t just sneak up on me in this moment. It had crept in a month earlier and taken root. Now it was everywhere. I was riddled with it. Brene Brown says, “Shame needs three things to grow exponentially in our lives: secrecy, silence, and judgment.”
By keeping quiet, Brown says your shame will grow exponentially. “It will creep into every corner and crevice of your life,” she says. Wow, in my experience she was spot on. It had crept into every corner and crevice of my life. It was devastating.
A month earlier I had written a check to my boyfriend for $5,000 to buy a car together. We didn’t end up buying a car, and there was always an excuse as to why he couldn’t return the money. So now, we had broken up and I still didn’t have the money. There was one thought plaguing me. “I’m so stupid.” I felt so stupid for giving him this money. I felt stupid for being so trusting to someone I had just met. I felt stupid for believing him when he told me the money was safe and would be returned. I felt stupid and I didn’t want anyone to know about it. There were the three key ingredients for shame– I was judging myself as stupid and I kept it secret from everyone in my life. I remained silent. The longer this went on the more torn up I felt about it. It had gotten to the point of not being able to sleep. It had its grip on me day and night.
I knew the way out was to speak my truth. I called my best friend and told her everything. I felt everything tighten as I let the words leave my mouth. I was terrified of her judging me. She listened and I felt better. Suddenly, the shame didn’t have such a grip. Nothing had changed about my situation, but I didn’t feel so alone or so helpless in all of it. A few days past and I reached out to my coach. Again, I shared the story. This time I was met with empathy. Shame cannot survive empathy. With this, the feelings were gone. I no longer felt shame. I could share my experience about the money without hesitating or feeling my stomach drop. I had brought my judgment into the light.
Was the original thought true? Was I stupid for giving him the money? I asked this of myself as honestly and objectively as I could. I asked it several times. If I were really honest with myself, would I have wanted to do it different? I certainly wished I had the money back, but when I really went deep the answer was no. I didn’t wish I had done it different. Here was the reason.
I trusted him. I believed in him. I believed in our relationship. I was all in. I didn’t hold back. This was new. I was all in and I was fucking proud of myself. Could there have been a bit more due diligence? Definitely. That’s what I can do differently next time. Yet, I was proud of my trust, my loving, and my generous heart. Any dishonesty on his part certainly didn’t take away from generosity, kindness, and loving on my part. I think all to often a bad experience shapes our beliefs and subsequently our behavior. We get burned or hurt in some way and take on a belief that we can’t trust. Our heart closes a bit and next time we aren’t as open, kind, or trusting. Can you imagine what happens over a lifetime? What if we could keep our hearts wide open? What if we could play this game called life all in? What would that even look like?
I continued to show up and speak my truth. I stood up for myself but stayed in my loving heart. I never felt angry, stupid, or less than after sharing my truth. I felt proud. I felt a deep loving for this man in my life. I could see he was doing his very best and that underneath it all, he too, was very generous and loving. I started sending him thoughts of love and light. I prayed for him and asked God to help guide him. My worry about the money was gone and what was left was a profound level of compassion. My capacity to forgive and love unconditionally grew. I loved him no matter what. I continue to think of him often and send him good thoughts. I felt a pretty sweet connection to a man who helped me understand the true meaning of forgiveness and love.
On the other side of this I know a few things. If I hadn’t spoken up the shame would have only continued to tear me apart. Speaking up and saying what was so for me was the key to freedom. If you are suffering with shame, who is one person you could tell? What would it take to break the silence? What would it free up in your life and make possible?
To me, forgiveness was not about condoning what happened or about giving him a pass on it. It was about letting go of my own judgment. I let go of the wrongness I made about it. This freed me. Now I was no longer suffering. I also learned that beating myself up about it did nothing but beat me down. Self-punishment did nothing for me. Beating him up about it also was just as unhelpful. It just put anger and fear in my heart. I don’t know about you, but that is not a place I want to come from. Forgiveness and choosing to see this from the lens of love gave me one of the greatest gifts of my life. I experienced a deeper level of love for myself. I don’t know if I’ve ever been more proud of myself than the way I chose to handle this situation. I love my heart and I love how often I choose love over fear. That’s something I can be proud of, no matter what.