It was during my second week at Southwestern College, the second meeting of Tuesday’s Psychology of Altruism class, that Ann Filemyr presented us with this lesson: “reduce shame, enhance love.” We talked about feelings of shame and the aching, overwhelming presence it can have in our daily lives. Shame that can continually haunt us whether it stems from an experience that happened fifteen minutes or fifteen years ago; a feeling that we all experience and all wish we could rid ourselves of…which is exactly what we began to do. As a class, we stood in a circle and proceeded to “purge” ourselves of shame (fake vomiting noises included) and physically brush off the negative feelings and self-doubt. Despite feeling a little uncomfortable and silly, I also felt a bit of relief at this simple but powerful action.
Then we started to talk about the idea of self-love, which also proved to be a little uncomfortable to deal with at first. As it turns out, staring your classmates in the eye and stating, “I’m Lauren, and I love myself” can turn your face warm and red and invoke a state of awkward, uncomfortable smiling. I was embarrassed and I was ashamed (and probably a little sweaty too). But more importantly, I began to ask myself, why does this idea of loving oneself evoke these kinds of feelings? And why should I feel ashamed of loving who I am?
Coincidentally (or maybe not), this same week I began reading a book by Brené Brown titled The Gifts of Imperfection. In her book, Brown discusses the idea of Wholehearted living, which she explains is about “engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness.” Brown is well known for all of her research on shame and fear, which she says allows her to contribute to discussions of love, belonging, and worthiness. As I read, I found myself once again faced with these opposing concepts of shame and love, and wondering why it is so easy to let the feelings of shame overpower any sense of love and worthiness we have inside ourselves.
Brown writes that “how much we know and understand ourselves is critically important, but there is something that is even more essential to living a Wholehearted life: loving ourselves.” The first year at Southwestern College is characterized by self-discovery and transformation. The philosophy states that the first year curriculum is a “deep journey into, and engagement of, the student’s authentic self and life path.” Essentially, we will spend a lot of time learning about and discovering who we are and what led us to Southwestern College.
I think that a huge, important part of this transformation is learning how to love who we are.
In The Gifts of Imperfection, Brown says that Wholehearted living is a journey of a lifetime. In the same way, I think that the process of reducing shame and enhancing love within ourselves is an ongoing one; a process that we will continue to work on for the rest of our lives. Being at Southwestern College, I am surrounded by genuine people who are openly choosing to embark on this journey. We are learning together to believe that there is no shame in loving who we are, as hard as it is to do, in the hopes that we will be able to go out into the world and spread that love. There was one quote from the book in particular that really stood out to me; I feel like it puts into words a bit of what Southwestern College embodies. Brown says, “The Wholehearted journey is not the path of least resistance. It’s a path of consciousness and choice. And, to be honest, it’s a little counterculture. The willingness to tell our stories, feel the pain of others, and stay genuinely connected in this disconnected world is not something we can do halfheartedly.” So it begins, the journey to reduce shame and enhance the love within us, to be conscious and connected, and to ultimately take what we’ve learned out into the world and share it.