“We’re going on a bear hunt,
We’re going to catch a big one,
What a beautiful day,
We’re not scared.
A narrow, gloomy cave.
We can’t go over it,
We can’t go under it,
We’ve got to go throught it!
Tiptoe, tiptoe, tiptoe.”
This is a verse from the children’s book We’re going on a bear hunt by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury. I love this book, although, when I come to think of it, I don’t think I ever read it to my daughter. This last week walking through my shame, I kept repeating to myself ‘We’ve got to go through it.’ At the beginning of this week I was tiptoeing through this dark cave alone, shitting my pants, and most of all feeling very alone. Shame creates separation.
I am still walking through that cave, but now I am holding hands with people who in response to my story have shared their shame with me. I am still scared of criticism, but I don’t feel alone anymore and that makes a big difference. Sharing shame and it being met with reciprocity creates togetherness and gives courage.
Shame is a human condition. We may feel like we’re all alone, because we cannot not see each other’s shame, but I can tell you we’re not walking in that narrow, gloomy cave alone. There are people walking right next to us. We just have to reach out, grab their hand and walk through the cave together. Don’t pretend you’re not afraid. We’re all scared. Even if the other doesn’t say it out loud, you can feel their sweaty hands and hear their wild heart beat. When you say out loud what you are scared of most, the darkness will becomes less dark. You will find that you were walking with your eyes closed. Opening them, your eyes will get used to the dark and you will see much more than you thought was possible. At one point you may even remember you have a flashlight in your backpack.
You don’t have to share your shame with the world, like I did, although I must say it is very liberating. You may want to start small and test the person you’re about to confide in. You don’t want to set yourself up for additional shame. Know that if people react to that little piece of information with judgement and criticism, that simply means that they are not ready to confront their own shame, it has nothing to do with you or what you feel ashamed of. And know too that the part of you that is scared will do its best to stop you from opening up by creating an internal havoc you probably have never witnessed before. Don’t let that stop you, don’t buy it, just find another person to confide in. And just do it. It is one of the best things I have ever done.
Illustration by Helen Oxenbury