Everyone’s got “their stuff”, those insecurities we’d rather not talk about. What’s the point?
In this article, I want to share with you the benefits of talking about all of the things you don’t want to talk about with your partner.
When it comes to shame, it seems like talking about it will only make things worse. Why would you draw attention to your insecurities? Is it really worth it?
Yes, absolutely. I’m eager to share with you so you can experience the benefits for yourself. First, we need to call upon the incredible Brene Brown to help us understand what shame is:
“Shame is an intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection.”
If you haven’t seen Brene’s TED Talks yet, they are some of the most watched of all time:
Shame keeps us separate from each other. If you keep your insecurities hidden or pretend they don’t matter, you stay stuck relating with your partner through layers of fear and conditioning. Vulnerability is a prerequisite to connection. In other words, it is the way to connection. It is the conscious and intentional practice of opening your heart to another human being without offence or defence. When you avoid vulnerability - risk, uncertainty and emotional exposure – you also avoid the very feeling of closeness our humanity craves.
“You can’t get to courage without walking through vulnerability.” – Brene Brown
“Vulnerability is not weakness, it’s our greatest measure of courage.” – Brene Brown
“The cave you fear holds the treasure you seek.” Joseph Campbell
For me, shame was the fear that something I could do or say would fundamentally change the way my partner saw me. It was something that would be too much for them, unacceptable in some way, the straw that broke the camel’s back... Sure they love me, but if they knew this, I don’t know if they could handle that...
And there were layers of it. With each layer of shame I spoke, there was another deeper, more vulnerable layer. I didn’t speak it all at once, but when we were done over the course of a few weeks, we experienced a viscerally more profound sense of closeness, connection and intimacy than I’ve ever experienced with another human being. Words can’t do it justice, it’s just a feeling of nothing in the way. Rumi’s quote summarizes the process of engaging in conscious partnership nicely:
“Our task is not to seek for love, but to remove all barriers to it.”
Talking about the things you don’t want to talk about is the process of removing layers, barriers to connection that cut you off energetically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually and physically. To me, speaking shame is putting your love for each other into action. It’s using the safe space of trust you’ve created in your conscious partnership to liberate yourselves. Afterall, you chose this person because you love and accept all of them right? Can you trust that they love you the same?
When you’re committed to deeper connection you take action to put yourself out there by leading with vulnerability and trust your partner will meet you there.
Where Shame Comes From
The process of socialization cuts us off from our wholeness and disconnects us from our authentic self-expression. Growing up we learn what is right, wrong, good and bad, what is acceptable and unacceptable, what will bring us love and pain, connection and disconnection, praise and disdain, attention and neglect, etc. So, through this process of conditioning, we learn to express more of what is wanted and less of what is unwanted. In essence, we learn shame. We learn to abandon, ignore, neglect, disown, and suppress aspects of our whole self to maintain our attachment relationships for the purpose of survival. The result? You end up in your 40s and 50s together but feeling disconnected.
“Our culture teaches us about shame – it dictates what is acceptable and what is not. We weren’t born craving perfect bodies. We weren’t born afraid to tell our stories. We weren’t born with a fear of getting too old to feel valuable. We weren’t born with a Pottery Barn catalog in one hand and heartbreaking debt in the other. Shame comes from outside of us – from the messages and expectations of our culture. What comes from the inside of us is a very human need to belong, to relate.” – Brene Brown
“We live in a culture of never enough... Shame is universal. We all know that feeling: “I’m not enough. I’m not thin enough, rich enough, beautiful enough, smart enough...” – Brene Brown
Even the smallest of cues from our parents, friends and authority figures, like a split-second scornful glance, can have us unconsciously suppress aspects of our authentic self. We learn to pretend and play along to keep the peace and eventually who we think we’re supposed to be becomes our normal. We say, “That’s just who I am.” Meanwhile, buried underneath layers of conditioning - which are really just protection mechanisms we used to keep us safe as children - is our authentic self, waiting to be met. Conscious partnership offers you the greatest opportunity to peel back your layers of conditioning to reveal who you truly are to your partner and the world. No one can do it for you, but you can each hold safe space for each other to do the work.
“Shame drives two big tapes, never good enough, and if you can talk it out of that one, who do you think you are?”. Shame inherently puts an emotional wall between us and the people we are trying to connect with, when we are worrying as to how others will look at us because of whatever it is that is driving our shame.” – Brene Brown
“Who do you think you are” shame is the more insidious kind that says, “You’re not allowed to be great, to be happy, to have what you want, to be rich, or at peace, especially when other people aren’t happy.” With shame you’re either too much or too little, you can’t win, you always have to be something other than who you are to be worthy of love and belonging.
Other people might not notice, but to you, you shame seems like the most obvious, glaring imperfections. Shame sounds like, “I’m afraid you won’t love me, like me, want me if....” “I’m afraid you’ll get upset, won’t understand or leave me if...” At the core of shame is vulnerability, the risk of being seen for who you truly are.
“If we are going to find our way out of shame and back to each other, vulnerability is the path and courage is the light. To set down those lists of “what we’re supposed to be” is brave. To love ourselves and support each other in the process of becoming real is perhaps the greatest single act of daring greatly.” – Brene Brown
Common examples of shame in partnership:
Body Shame – This is probably one of the biggest shame triggers for us. We’re self-conscious about the way we look. Shape, tone, pimple, pock-mark, cellulite, size; whatever the imperfection, you want it to be different and would rather hide it.
Sex Shame – This ties in with body shame. Sex and pleasure is culturally taboo. What do you really want? Actually... if you could have anything? So many people are ashamed to get, take, request, give, or receive what they deeply desire because they’ve judged it as bad, wrong, dirty, selfish, etc.
“Many of us will spend our entire lives trying to slog through the shame swampland to get to a place where we can give ourselves permission to both be imperfect and to believe we are enough.” – Brene Brown
In other words, we are worthy of love and belonging including our imperfections not in spite of them, and it is up to each one of you to gift yourself the self-acceptance you want from others first by loving yourself enough to walk through what’s in the way of you experiencing the depth of connection that is your natural birthright. This is the beauty of relationship, to witness each other liberate ourselves, to proudly and graciously hold safe space to heal relational trauma, insecurities and shame by gifting each other our loving attention.
Resolving Layers of Pain
For some of you speaking shame might not be where you’re at yet. That’s okay, this is a journey and a process that can’t be rushed. If you’ve been in partnership for a while (10+ years for example), you’ve probably done your fair share of hurting and being hurt. So, on top of shame there’s unresolved emotion that needs to be processed that’s also in the way of connection.
I love Brene Brown’s definition of connection:
“The energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.”
It speaks to the flow of energy that’s possible between two human beings, this freeflow of giving and receiving energy. Connection and conversation is generative and nourishing for your soul when you are both willing to show up for each other in presence.
“The most precious gift we can offer others is our presence. When mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers.” Thich Nhat Hanh
Brene goes on to say,
"Connection is why we're here; it is what gives purpose and meaning to our lives."
That’s a big statement: Connection is why we’re here.
It is the juice of life, but so many of us have not experienced real deep connection before. Once you’ve experienced real depth with someone you can’t help but want to experience it again and also offer the gift of your attention and presence to others because it feels so good. It’s enlivening, enriching, nourishing and satiating to be deeply seen, known, felt, understood and valued.
The First Step
Everything that got you to where you are today in your relationship is now what’s holding you back from your next level. It’s good practice to acknowledge and let go of old ways of being that once served you as you consciously choose to build new habits that are in alignment with the conscious, openhearted partnership you are creating.
“If you want something you've never had, you must be willing to do something you've never done.” – Thomas Jefferson
So, what’s the next step for you? What is a medium to small shame story you could consider sharing with your partner? Something will come to your mind or heart that needs resolving or talking about first. Trust what comes up and begin there.
Check out How to Make Requests for Change for some insight into how to bring up difficult topics with your partner.
Here are some examples:
“I have something vulnerable I’d like to share with you, are you available or do you have space right now?”
“Is there a time I could have your full attention? I have an insecurity I’d like to share with you so that it doesn’t have to get in the way of our connection. Could we schedule a time to hold safe space for me?”
“I have something I’m afraid to share with you because I’m scared it will change the way you see me or love me. Would you be willing to hear me? I don’t need anything other than just space to be heard.”
“I’d really love to feel more connected to you, but I have a few insecurities / vulnerabilities that I think get in the way. I’d really appreciate space to explore them and be heard without you reacting or trying to make things better. I think I just really need space to share and know that you still love me. Is there a good time for you?”
Find words that feel true for you when making your request to be heard and be mindful of what you are seeking. Journal about it or share with a trusted friend in preparation if need be. Don’t rush it, but take an action that moves you closer to creating the connection you desire.
Make a specific request so that your partner know what you need. If you’re not specific and don’t really know what you need or want, your partner might jump to a default response that doesn’t feel good.
“If we share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can’t survive.” – Brene Brown
“Shame needs three things to grow exponentially in our lives: secrecy, silence, and judgment... Shame derives its power from being unspeakable.” – Brene Brown
“If we cultivate enough awareness about shame, to name it and speak to it, we’ve basically cut it off at the knees.” – Brene Brown
Our deepest vulnerabilities aren’t meant to be shared with everyone. If you and your partner are committed to creating a conscious partnership and putting your values of connection, freedom, equality, love (whatever your core values are) into action, I invite you to ask yourself:
What do I need to feel safe to open up to my partner more deeply?
What is the next layer for me to walk through?
How can I create safe space for myself and my partner daily so that we work toward feeling more comfortable taking off our armor and opening our hearts to each other?
Is it worth it? Yes!
Can you do it? Yes!
Are you ready? No rush.
Conscious partnership has the potential to be the easiest, most honest, liberating and safe space for you to express all of who you are. It has the potential to be healing.
I invite you to create that space intentionally for yourself and your partner because you both stand to benefit a great deal, to experience the gift of love and connection in action when you remove all that’s in the way.
To opening our hearts,