Recently, my beloved seven-year-old niece and nephew spent the night. During bedtime rituals, my nephew confided in me that he was worried he would have bad dreams at my house since he did not have his dream catcher. Dream catchers were invented by the Ojibwe Native American tribe, to prevent sleeping children from having nightmares. The dream catcher has a rounded net or web and usually, feathers or other sacred items hang from it.
Since we don’t have a dream catcher and we wanted our nephew to have a night of sweet sleep, my husband and I found paper, scissors, and crayons and made our own dream catcher with the kids. To bless our dream catcher, we read two Native American prayers and hung the dream catcher from a chandelier over the bed my nephew slept in. The next morning I asked my nephew how he slept and he told us he did not have any bad dreams. My niece later confided in me that making our dream catcher was her favorite part of the weekend. Our paper dream catcher not only worked but was a big hit with the kids!
Dream catchers are such a great object to buy or make with children because it serves as a tangible reminder to reinforce the importance of releasing negative dreams or thoughts. And we need to share our worries with the dream catcher, the Great Spirit (Native American vernacular for God), and loved ones.
This concept of a dream catcher intrigued me. I don’t really struggle often with bad dreams, but in my waking hours, I am often haunted by shame. Shame is the struggle of feeling like we are not worthy or good enough. Even though I have done a lot of work to explore the roots of my shame, I am aware the process of healing my shame will be a life-long journey. There are so many layers of the shame onion for me to keep pulling back and exploring. My nephew has a dream catcher at his home and now he also has a homemade dreamcatcher at my place to catch his bad dreams, but I’m aware of my own need for a shame catcher to receive my shame.
Some people may wrongly assume that because I am a counselor, I have it all together and have put my issues with shame to rest. But my truth is that just like most of you, I still struggle with shame. In addition to having a counseling practice, I work as a yoga teacher in my community and almost every time someone reaches out to offer me a job teaching yoga, I go to a place of shame. The voice in my head says, “Why would they want me to teach for them?” I start to think of people who might be a better teacher than me. This inner critical voice whispers to me that I am deficient in some way.
I know there are many roots connected to my feelings of shame. When I doubt my ability to teach a yoga class, I know it is linked to the little girl who always felt like she had two left feet in ballet class and to the teenager who was not strong enough to make the cut for the high school basketball team. There have been times when my mantra has been, “I am clumsy” or “I am weak.” And even though I eventually overcome these negative messages and find the deep-seated awareness that I am enough, I realize I must be diligent in my fight against the shame dodgeball that hits me when I did not see it coming.
What to Do When the Shame Dodgeball Hits You
Shame disables us and prevents us from experiencing abundant life. This is when we need a shame catcher, to free us from our shame and to help us soar again. But as a thought about my nephew’s dream catcher and my own need for a shame catcher, I realized I do have a shame catcher. Some of the sacred feathers dangling from my shame catcher include vulnerability, kindness, and imperfection. I will likely always struggle with shame, but if I remember to use my shame catcher, it will provide a net for me to release my internalized shame. What a gift it is to know I can throw the unexpected shame dodgeball that hits me, back to my shame catcher net!
Vulnerability is Power
When feelings of shame emerge, the best way to overcome them is to take my shame out of the metaphorical closet and to speak my truth to a safe person, who I can trust to hear my story and offer me a gentle listening ear. And when I share feelings of inadequacy with a best friend, my husband, or a close family member, somehow the light overshadows the darkness and I reorient myself and instead of seeing myself as insufficient, I start to recognize my gifts and graces.
This is the paradox of shame. We believe if we mask our shame and hide our feelings of unworthiness, this will lead to the picture-perfect life. But the truth is that perfection is elusive and joy actually comes when we share our feelings of worthlessness. When we give voice to our feelings of shame with accepting people, we are unbound from shackles we did not even realize we were wearing, and we experience a new found freedom.
Kindness Mode ON
The way we speak about others is a reflection of how we see ourselves. The words we speak about ourselves are a reflection of our own shame narratives, but it is equally important to consider what we say about other people. Most of the time, when we are critiquing someone else, it is a means to make ourselves feel better about who we are.
When we gossip about our neighbor, it can provide us with a reminder that we might need to spend some time nurturing our self and processing why we are feeling the need to put someone else down, in order to make ourselves feel better.
When we think we are better than others, this is shame wanting to come and dine with us. The way to prevent shame from having a meal with us is to remind ourselves of our own hallowed value and our neighbor’s worth.
There is a lot of pressure in our culture to be perfect. Someone once told me the story of being invited to participate in the fundraising bake sale at their church. Several of the church members shared fancy pictures from Pinterest of what they planned to make, but this woman knew she did not have the energy to bake a perfect batch of cookies. She let the group know that she would be bringing a store bought dessert for the bake sale. It was difficult for her to set this boundary because she felt like she was not living up to the church’s expectations, and yet she shared it was liberating to not have to be perfect.
Often our shame invites us to prove and validate ourselves to others. It tells us we have to be perfect and bring an award-winning dessert to the bake sale. But we release ourselves from shame when we ask ourselves what we truly need to do, in order to be who we are. If it is life-giving to make baked goods for a bake sale, then heat up the oven and go for it. But if we know baking is going to be a laborious project that exhausts us, then we must set this boundary and go buy something for the bake sale. Freeing ourselves from shame involves letting go of expectations of ourselves and others. When we allow ourselves and others to be imperfect, we will find more contentment and peace on this journey.
Vulnerability, kindness, and imperfection are just a few of the feathers hanging from my shame catcher. What are the feathers dangling from your shame catcher? In her book, Rising Strong, Dr. Brene Brown states, “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.” When we learn how to respond to our shame, we truly can get to a place where we know deep within that we are imperfect, but we are also enough. Shame dodgeballs will continue to hit us, and so we need to figure out what sacred feathers to utilize when this happens, so we can throw the shame dodgeball back to our shame catcher.