#TransparentTuesday – What if Shame is Just Arrogance in Disguise?

Editor’s note: These posts were written back when my brand name was Remodel Fitness. I’ve decided to include them here without editing them, in the interest of…well… transparency. 😉

Many of us hold ourselves to much higher standards than we hold everyone else to.

I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve had with women in which they tell me that they would never judge OTHER women for the stuff they judge themselves for. They would never judge another woman for struggling to lose the baby weight, or for not having enough energy at the end of a long day to have sexy time with her partner, or for not knowing exactly what she wants to do with her life.

The conversation inevitably implies that for other women, those things and more are all perfectly acceptable. Appropriate, even. Deserving of compassion, forgiveness, and love.

Other women should be satisfied and happy with just doing their best. But not me.

These women say they feel like they should be able to be… more. More successful. More beautiful. More sexy. More supermom. More, more, more.

Fill-in-the-blank should be good enough for other women, but it’s not good enough for me. I have to do better.

“Why,” I ask? Why should you be able to do and be all these things that you don’t think other women should do or be?

That’s a difficult question to answer, and I want to talk about why. My somewhat unorthodox suggestion is that there’s something almost arrogant about shame.

Perhaps there is an arrogance to the belief that you are not good enough, have not achieved enough, are not beautiful enough. After all, it implies that you could be perfect if only you tried. That you (and only you) had the potential to be perfect enough- beautiful enough, successful enough, powerful enough, sexy enough, smart enough. Perhaps shame comes from feeling like you let yourself down; that you had this potential and wasted it.

But you don’t have the potential to be perfect. You never did. None of us do.

Judging yourself as “not ____ enough yet” isn’t ambitious, it’s abusive and arrogant.

Abusive, because you’re shaming yourself for something that cannot be changed, which only a bully would do. And arrogant, because it implies that you are somehow exempt from the rule that nobody is perfect. It implies you could have been perfect, if only you’d tried harder. And what makes you alone so special that you could be perfect if only you try hard enough?

I’m saying all this because I think it’s worth flipping the conversation about low-self-worth on it’s head.

You’re not perfect. I’m not perfect. Nobody is, and nobody can be. And it seems to me like we need to examine our ego’s role in our feelings of unworthiness. We need to examine how feelings of superiority often go hand in hand with feelings of inferiority, and how feeling a potential to be perfect often goes hand in hand with feeling that unless we are perfect we are nothing. 

Have you ever experienced simultaneous shame and superiority? Have you ever felt that you were both special and better than other people, but somehow also much worse and less worthy?

Feelings of superiority and inferiority both boil down to the same thing: a belief that you are different from other people, separate from them one way or another. How might such a belief have been protecting you, and from what? How true is it, really? And what would it take to release it?

While most people would think that the most important part of building confidence would be accepting that you’re not “worse than” most people, and that you’re actually good enough. But I’ve often found the exact opposite to be true for my clients– that due to the double-edged sword of shame and arrogance, the most important and impactful part is actually accepting that you’re not better than anyone else, because you actually can’t be perfect either.

Can you relate to this? If so, what would you need to feel, do, grieve, or give up in order to let go of the perfectionism, superiority, or belief that you’re better than other people which is keeping you trapped in shame and self-loathing?

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