There is the saying “Comparison is the thief of joy”, but it steals much more than that. When we compare, we focus on our subconscious deficits. We acknowledge and focus on what we don’t have that someone else does have. We even at times start to “should” ourselves into believing we should have or should be like this person we are focusing on. We start putting unrealistic expectations on ourselves. When we don’t match up, we find ourselves feeling like we have failed. So comparing steals our sense of worth, our self -love, our own understanding of our strengths, and our acknowledgment of what we bring to the world. We start to invite shame into our belief system about ourselves. “Shame is that warm feeling that washes over us, making us feel small, flawed, and never good enough” -Brene Brown.
Subconsciously we respond to shame by building up shame shields or walls to protect ourselves from feeling so “less than”. According to Dr. Hartling, we deal with shame using three different coping behaviors: We move away-hiding, silencing ourselves, keeping secrets, disappearing; We move towards-people pleasing, trying to appease; and we move against- We fight shameless shame, we build up the shame shields or walls to protect ourselves and make ourselves feel bigger and others feel smaller. Things like being judgemental, arrogant, a braggart, overly proud, a one upper, narcissistic, and attention seeking are behaviors employed to offset shame.
Everybody has experienced shame and everybody has used these poor coping skills to deal with shame. They are employed subconsciously, initially and until one learns the purpose of the behavior’s function, they continue to be employed. The worst part about using these shame shields is, the more one uses them, the more shame grows within them, and the more they need to use them. I repeat people use shame shields to protect themselves from the outside world and the shame they experience, but by using them, they do not protect themselves from the person who is causing their shame too grow… their self.
First steps: Put your measuring stick away. Focus on your strengths and the wonderful gifts you bring to the world everyday. Be grateful for who you are and how you serve in the world. If there are things that you need to work on, aspire to be the best you, that you can be.
Action step: Start noticing if you have behaviors you are not proud of. Do you act arrogant in situations and think to yourself, “Just stop!”? Do you find yourself being judgemental or bragging too much, and think “Why did I do that?” Incongruent living is exhausting. It pushes people away, so it is also lonely.
There is hope! Therapists help people to overcome the struggle with shame through shame resilience training.