“You make it really easy for people to forget about you.”
I remember the moment my, now husband, said those words to me. Too many nights had passed where I had talked about this feeling of emptiness it seemed was innately present in me where he finally felt a drive to say what I could tell had been on his mind for months.
When he first said it, I got this intense desire to scream, “Fuck you,” while simultaneously slapping him in the face and crying in agreement. What do you mean? People forget about me? People don’t care? Thanks. I spent years in my own head trying to fight off these thoughts and now you jump on the bandwagon?
But, thankfully, I sat in silence for a few seconds before acting on the ploy of emotions coursing through me in that moment, which gave him time to elaborate on this bold statement.
Now, I can’t remember his exact words but it was something like, “You take care of everyone. You take care of people to the point that they expect it and don’t have to think about you and what you need.”
He went on to talk about the two of us and how he saw himself struggling to show up for me because I never shared what my needs were - and honestly don’t really think I had an idea - and would turn every attempt to focus on me back to something about him. I would overextend to be what I thought he wanted so that I could guarantee my role in his life.
As much as I hated to admit it in the moment, he was right. And it wasn’t just with him. Years of trauma, bad relationships and the inevitable wall of shame that had built up inside me would lead me to take on a role of service to and for others. I questioned my sense of belonging and felt that the only way to guarantee that connection, even if seemingly false and one-sided, was to take on the role of “doing” for those around me.
My brain had seen the people that are “supposed” to be there for you, without question, leave. People whom you grew up being told would love you no matter what, seemed to walk away. And as much as I can say now that so much of that was not about me, as a kid, it is hard to disentangle those actions from such negative emotions.
Relationships seemed to become too hard to navigate and my faith and trust in people continued to dissipate with every disappointment or loss. This just seemed safer. Not to need and to provide at a level that keeps you “valuable” to those around you.
This became my norm - meaning, after awhile, I didn’t even realize I would do it. I just naturally fell into this role. I would make myself small in order to guarantee my “place”.
Everywhere I went, people would tell me about how much people gravitate towards me and want to be around me. And yeah, it seems nice on the surface but the reality is that every new connection became another energy drain. Another person for whom I would create ridiculous expectations and standards for me to live up to in order to be “good enough”. And did I ever actually feel that way? Rhetorical, I know. But just for completeness sake, no, I never did.
I just felt increasingly more resentful and empty. Resentful at those around me for not pushing me to hold myself as equal in a relationship. Resentful when people wouldn’t call or check in. Resentful when people would make comments like, “Kyira is always fine.” or had the assumption that I would take care of whatever needed to be done. But most of all, I was resentful of myself for always making it about everyone else. Yes, to a degree I can hold those around me accountable for not pushing harder for me to be seen. But the reality was that each of those people had become a product of my shame narrative and the interpersonal dynamics I set up with them as a result.
As Jordan had said, “I make it easy for people to forget about me.” It was my shame that had continued to win out.
And shame is a bitch. Through and through. It’s sole job seems to be to make you feel like shit. Constantly questioning your worth and finding value in external pressures and motivations.
It left me feeling an emptiness only those who had been entrapped in shame can understand. An emptiness that consumes you. With every action motivated by shame, a piece of me chipped away.
I had created dozens of masks I wore every day to be what I thought I needed to be for everyone else while disconnecting exponentially from the self I held underneath. Self esteem, insight and connection turned to fear, self-doubt and anxiety, all precursors to shame. My beliefs about myself turned from being a good person to being a person whose job was to provide for others.
Now, I am not shame’s only victim. We have all fallen ill, losing ourselves to its power. We have become shells of ourselves, doing what we feel we need to do to ensure our place in this world or desperately hit the pause button when it feels too overwhelming. But what cost do we find ourselves paying when we do not turn away from shame and claw our way back down to uncover the depth of our true selves?
For me, I had lost authenticity. I had found superficiality and lived a life motivated by scarcity - scarcity of love and acceptance from others.
But what was it that gave shame the power in the first place? Where does shame grow and what might it look like to move past it.
Well, shame grows in the deepest cracks of our soul. It fills in the spaces of uncertainty and solidifies itself as negative self talk. And the only sure way to kill it is by shining light on it, like Devil’s Snare from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (yes, bonus points for the HP reference - woo!)
What does that mean when we talk about shame? If only it were as easy as saying a quick spell. No. It means we have to name our shame. We have to talk about it. And we have to get clear on where it came from and the ways it has been dictating our interpersonal relationships. My shame was feeling like I was not good enough. It told me that if I was the “real” me then people would leave - because that is what had happened before. It made me think that the future was made up of an infinite number of disappointments and backed me in to a corner of complacency. I assumed that this was the reality that I had to exist in. But over time, I have learned that that is just the blindfold of bullshit shame had held over my eyes.
So, in order to begin the arduous journey to break free from it’s shackles, I took my first step that night with Jordan. I listened without letting shame push him away in a desperate move for protection. I reflected on the words he shared and thought about the why behind it all. And then I talked about. I put it out there. I was a degree of vulnerable that I had never been. I was the one who needed now. I was the one to be consoled. And don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t just that I talked about it this one time and magically life was easy - shame never showing up again. Nope. Shame shows up every day - with a whole new bag of disappointment and a new blindfold.
Fighting it takes work. It takes showing up. It takes losing friends and loved ones without taking on a responsibility for it that is unfairly appropriated. It is about getting clear on the me that can grow into the shell I had been and exists without the need to lose myself in the needs and wants of others. And what’s more? It means asserting our needs and wants to those around us to give them the opportunity to show up for you.
It means telling people when shame shows up in my relationships and also getting clear on where it came from. And it means slowing down every time you want to enact the defenses of shame and put on your mask.
I deserve to have people show up for me. I deserve to ask for help. I deserve to be taken care without putting myself last. And I deserve to have good done unto me “just because”. And so do you.
So, what is the first step you can take with your shame to begin to shine your own light on it?