Category Archives: What Shame Looks Like

we’re missing out on vulnerability

I read this article several days ago.  It was not a surprising read.  Many conversations around my house have focused on this very topic and echo much of what the author wrote.  But as I read it, I started to think about vulnerability, and how it is suffering as a result of the culture we live in and the seeming inability of individuals to tear themselves away from their phones.  It’s scary, really, to read what is happening with the younger generations who have never known what it is like to NOT have a phone with them at all times.  It’s scary to think about the way they communicate (or DON’T, really), and the way they build relationships that cannot possibly have much depth.  Yes, the younger generations do not know a world without being constantly “plugged in,” but every age and generation can suffer, and probably is suffering, due to the manner in which we as a culture prioritize our devices and what they can do over face-to-face interaction and connection.  Seriously, when your attention is directed to your phone (texting, posting, reading, gaming), your attention is most certainly NOT on the people you are with or on what is happening around you.  And there most certainly is NOT any vulnerability.

Think about it, vulnerability requires a connection.  It’s personal and yes, sometimes scary and sometimes painful, but often so very gratifying and fulfilling.  If we’re not connected, I believe there is no chance of vulnerability.  If we’re living the way this article suggests, and I believe a good many of us are, then vulnerability is not welcome.  At all.

So what’s the big deal?  Who needs vulnerability?  We all do.  We all have hopes and dreams to share.  We all have fears and worries to share.  We all have joys and sorrows and good news and bad news and a need for advice and a need to vent.  If we are so plugged in to our phones, and so disconnected to the human beings around us, how can we ever share all of those goods and bads and, as a result, receive what we want or need (possibly the most important being empathy).

I’ll keep this short (but promise to dig deeper into vulnerability in the very near future!), as it is my hope that if you are reading this post, you will read the article – and it’s lengthy, but so good.  I just want to encourage connection, because connection leads to vulnerability, which leads to belonging, and perhaps most importantly, fights shame.

struggle equals strength

When was the last time you found yourself in the midst of a struggle?  When was the last time you told someone you were struggling?  Struggles happen… sometimes daily – even hourly, if we’re being honest.  We struggle in school, friendships, marriages and family relationships, parenting, and jobs.  We struggle in navigating this life, but if you look around, I’m guessing most of you see what I do – little-to-no evidence of struggle.  Oh sure, watch the news and there is plenty of it, but what about from the people around us?  Our co-workers, acquaintances, family members, friends?   So if there is so much struggle (we all know there is), why don’t we talk about it?  Why is it that we look around and see so little of the mess that is alive and well in so many of our lives?

I have one answer:  I believe there is a perception in our society that struggle equals weakness.  We shouldn’t struggle.  We should be strong.  We should be able to just handle things, no matter how messy they get.   And as we are handling our struggles on our own, we should keep up the proper appearance of having picture-perfect lives by documenting all of our perfection on facebook, Instagram, blogs, and all other applicable social media platforms.

I wish I could say I have never had this mindset, but at various times in my life, I have.  At various times in my life I did not want to let anyone see my struggle because I didn’t think it should be that big of a deal.  I thought I should be able to handle it better/on my own/without anyone knowing, etc.  Of course, the times I felt this way were times when my perception was that no one else around me was struggling.  Notice I wrote that was my perception.  Who knows what I would have actually found out had I opened up to just one person and revealed my fears, vulnerabilities, and difficulties.

Quite a few years ago, my sister and I were each going through our own divorce.  Yep, our divorces overlapped.  It was, to say the least, a trying time in our family.  Through many months of difficulty, pain, uncertainty, and healing, my sister and I spoke on the telephone daily.  One of us would call the other (she was typically the faithful caller) in the morning while driving to work.  It quickly became our routine, and honestly, our therapy.  We helped one another tremendously, and watched each other grow as we vented and cried and healed.

I can happily say that my sister is one of my closest friends, but I haven’t always been able to say that.  Like any relationship, ours has had its share of ups and downs… struggles.  The year we were in high school together was probably the worst of my parents’ lives.  They got to listen to us argue every morning while we got ready for school in the bathroom we shared.  The year we were in college together was one of the best years of my life.   The memories we made and the time we had together sans parents was truly wonderful.  In the years since, we have grown close and then drifted apart more times than I can count.  Now, I think we are the closest we have ever been, and that is largely due to our transparency and vulnerability with one another.  We share our struggles without judgment or fear of the same.  Sometimes our struggles are eerily similar, and other times we find it difficult to imagine going through the same difficulty.  But two things are always the same:  we grow closer through sharing with one another, and we grow stronger by leaning on one another.

So we can gain strength when we share our struggles with others.  Often we learn that we’re not alone and that the person with whom we are sharing has had a similar struggle or is, at the very least, a really awesome listener who can empathize with us.  I know how powerful it is to hear someone say, “me too.”  I know how powerful it is to hear someone say, “I went through something very similar.”  I know how powerful it is to hear someone say, “I can relate.”  If I never shared my struggle, I would never hear those powerful words.  Those powerful words have helped shore me up for the rest of the battle, and have given me courage in dark moments.

We can also often gain strength just by going through struggles.  If we never had difficult times, how would we grow?  I type this as I find myself in the midst of a tremendous struggle, so I know how trite and cliché my words sound.  But I also know they are true, because the struggle I am facing right now is not my first, and it’s probably not my most difficult.  Right now, honestly, I am wondering how this struggle is going to lead to growth, because sometimes I think it might actually lead to regression!  But because of what I have endured in the past, I am pretty confident there will be something positive that emerges out of my current difficulty.

I think our society equates struggle with weakness, but I propose that struggle really equals strength.  There is no shame in struggling.  Everyone does it.  Everyone faces difficult times.  Share your struggle, and find your strength.

shame: how do we get there? (2nd in a series)

Long time no post!  Life has been busy – as it is for everyone, I know.  But also, this shame stuff is tough to write about, and I find myself suffering from writer’s block at times.  There is a lot of thinking and processing that goes on before I even begin to type.  And it’s really easy to procrastinate and avoid tackling the difficult topics!   But enough procrastination – let’s dive back in!

In my last post, I wrote about how we develop shame.  There are many pathways, as I call them, but I started by addressing shame that is passed down from our parents, who get it from their parents, who get it from their parents, and on and on and on.  Conflict avoidance and conflict seeking behaviors are modeled in many shame-based marriages, and you can read about my personal experiences here.

Other shame-based behaviors that are often modeled to children are those of not expressing one’s emotions, and withdrawal (emotional).  I believe these go hand-in-hand (and that they are most certainly linked to both conflict avoidance and seeking), so I think it makes sense to address them together in this post.

I joke that until a few years ago I did not know I had feelings.  And while this IS a joke, as my husband likes to say, “many a truth is told in jest.”  In all honesty, it was not until my relationship with my husband that I began to think about and learn about my own feelings.  Sure, I knew when I was mad or happy or anxious.  I knew when I was hurt or embarrassed or nervous.  But what about all of those less obvious feelings?  What about how my feelings played into how I reacted to people or situations?  I never gave that an ounce of thought.  It was easier that way.  And really, I did not know how to do that.  I do not recall conversations while I was growing up that centered around feelings.  I do not recall being asked how I felt about something.  I cannot come up with a single time either of my parents shared their feelings with me or discussed their feelings in front of me.  This, of course, does not mean those conversations were 100% absent, but they definitely were not frequent, or even sporadic.

I’m pretty sure I know why this was the case.  As I mentioned in my last post, I have learned enough about my mom and dad’s own separate family histories to know that the topic of feelings was not a part of family discussions.  I am a child of the 70s, which makes my parents children of the 40s, which makes their parents… children who probably didn’t know they had feelings either!  I mean seriously, my parents’ generation was not big on all of the touchy-feely-let’s-talk-about-our-emotions stuff that occurs today, which means my grandparents’ generation likely placed feelings and emotions in the taboo category.

Of course not all families fit this mold.  My husband grew up in a family that spoke their minds and told each other how they felt on the regular, and I’m guessing it’s because he grew up in California and those Californians were so ahead of the rest of us – especially Midwesterners such as myself!  And it is because of his experiences that he was able to help me start to examine my own feelings.  It’s an ongoing process, by the way, and one I am still trying to navigate.

So how does not expressing one’s emotions tie into shame?  I imagine there are multiple answers to this question, but here is what I have learned in therapy:  Sharing feelings is an act of vulnerability.  Being vulnerable requires courage because we always risk rejection when we are vulnerable, and who wants to be rejected?  If we do not feel safe to share our feelings and express ourselves, if we fear we will be rejected or ridiculed or shunned (or shamed!), why in the heck would we open up?  It’s MUCH easier and safer to just keep everything tucked neatly inside, because then we can keep shame and other negative feelings at bay.

Unfortunately, when shame is a major player in a relationship, courage is pretty-much absent.  Shame takes over and says, “don’t open up.  Don’t risk it – it’s not worth it.”  So it’s tough to silence those voices and step out in courage, but it’s not impossible, and I would argue that stepping out in courage is absolutely vital to our emotional well-being.  You see, the problem with keeping everything inside is that the less we share our feelings and vulnerabilities, the more alone we feel, and the more shame has an opportunity to come in and tell us we are not worthy of the connection, love, and belonging we all need and desire.  If we do not share, we kill every chance of experiencing empathy and compassion and connection, and all of those things silence shame.

It’s not easy to open up when we are so used to keeping everything inside.  The best advice I can give is to just practice – starting with those who you know you can trust with your vulnerabilities.  A spouse, a sibling, a parent, a friend, a counselor… depending on the dynamic of the relationship, it could be any of these people.  In addition to practicing sharing, I have found it extremely helpful to spend time thinking about how I feel or felt.  This sounds so basic, but if you’re like me and feelings were not a part of your dialogue growing up, you probably did not think much about them either.  The simple act of becoming more aware of my feelings has helped me to better express myself and explain my reactions – both positive and negative.

Withdrawing is also a common shame-based behavior that is modeled in many relationships – especially marriage, and it is closely related to not sharing one’s feelings and emotions and avoiding conflict.  Conflict in shame-based relationships is often ugly, resulting in a tendency to avoid it at all costs.  And the act of withdrawing from the situation is a way to not deal with the ugly conflict AND the accompanying emotions.  Again, it is easier to just ignore it.  It will go away.  Except it won’t.  I admit I always want to withdraw in conflict or when I am feeling uncomfortable in a situation.  I just still don’t have enough practice managing my feelings.  Thankfully (although I don’t always feel gratitude in the midst of it), my husband will not allow me to completely withdraw when we are in conflict.  Sadly, when both partners are in shame and just want to withdraw, there is no one to prevent it from happening.  Consequently, the issues are ignored, they compound, conflict gets increasingly ugly (or is avoided altogether) and there is never true resolution.  When this is modeled to children, there is no opportunity to learn about conflict resolution, and those children (yes, I was one of them) grow up fearing conflict and withdrawing as a defense mechanism to their painful feelings.

I see this tendency to withdraw in my step-daughter.  She even shared with her father and me that in the midst of a difficult or sensitive conversation where she’s feeling things she doesn’t really want to feel, that she tries to ignore what is going on because if she does, it will just go away (her words).  I get that so much and my heart hurts for her that she has those desires.  Of course her dad and I told her that the opposite will happen – it won’t go away, and it will just get worse.  And I told her she is not alone – that I can completely relate to her desires.  As I am doing with myself, we are working on this with her, and it IS getting easier – for both of us.

I know it is tough to break the behaviors and tendencies that have always been a part of our lives.  I know it is scary to share our innermost feelings and emotions.  But I also know that stepping out in courage and being vulnerable often leads to a deeper more authentic relationship with the one you trust with your vulnerabilities.  I also know that all of us want to be truly known, and the only way for that to happen is to open up and share.  Break the cycle of self-protection and self-preservation.  Let others in and experience true healing and connection.


*I realize this blog does not lend itself to public comments.  The topic of shame is extremely personal and sensitive, despite the fact that no one is exempt from it.  I am guessing some of you may have questions regarding things I have written.  Or maybe you want me to address a certain topic that is related to shame.  If that is the case, feel free to send me a private message through the blog Contact page.  Alternatively, you can leave a comment on any of my posts.  I have to approve them before they are public, and if you would prefer I not publish yours, just state that in your comment and I will keep it private.  I look forward to hearing from you!

shame: how do we get there? (1st in a series)

I have spent some time talking about what shame looks like in my life, but I realized it may help to explore how we develop shame.  I think this is really important to learn about because when we know where it comes from, we can better recognize when we are in shame, manage the feelings, and more easily make our way out of it – at least that is what I am finding in my own life.

As I mentioned in my first post, I first started to learn about shame in my therapist’s office.  I first talked about shame, however, with my sister.  At the time, we went to the same therapist (and in case you’re wondering, no, not together – our relationship is perfect, ha!).   I cannot recall the exact conversation, but I do recall feeling uncomfortable when she brought up the concept of shame.  In fact, I think I probably said something like, “well, that’s interesting,” and quickly changed the subject because I did not think it applied to me.

When I actually started to explore shame and found out it does, in fact, apply to me, I was pretty shocked because I learned that I acquired my shame in many different ways.  I call these the pathways to shame, and in an effort to bring more awareness to shame and how pervasive it is, I want to explore these pathways – in no particular order of importance.  I have learned about how we develop shame in my therapist’s office and by reading Brené Brown’s books I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn’t), and Daring Greatly, and there is much to cover.  I hope you will stick with me as I dive into how we “get” shame.  Trust me, figuring out where it comes from is a big piece of the “how we deal with it” puzzle.

To be completely honest, this first post in what will be a series was extremely difficult for me to write.  I knew for a very long time that I wanted to write it, and I started it weeks ago, but then what I started stayed in draft form on my computer.  I was stuck.  I was, truthfully, scared.  This post, as well as those that will follow, is deeply personal – not only for me, but for those I love.  By delving into how I became who I am, I necessarily have to address those who raised me and those who raised those who raised me.  My family.  My people.  I thought deeply about how to write about my history, and every word was chosen with care.

I want to be clear on one thing:  much of our shame is acquired honestly.  In her book Daring Greatly, Brené Brown states, “We learn shame in our families of origin…”  I believe that shame is, for the most part, passed along innocently and with no intent to harm.  Unless you are a therapist or social worker who has studied shame, or you have sought out information on the topic yourself either through therapy or out of a desire to learn, I think it is impossible to know the (sometimes devastating) effects of these actions.  So what I am saying is that I “got” shame mostly from my family of origin, but please hear me when I say I do not blame my parents for how I turned out, and I am not disrespecting them when I talk about how I acquired my shame.  Yes, they handed down certain shame-based behaviors and tendencies, but I know it was not done on purpose.  Honestly, these were also handed down to them.  I have had enough conversations with family members over the years to know how I ended up with much of my shame.  I love my parents dearly, and as I learn more and more about my own shame, I have tried to have open conversations about it with my parents.  It has not been easy, but it has been healing.

So how is shame passed down from parent to child?  Well, it’s pretty simple:  shame-based people marry each other and stay in their shame, hoping the other will “heal” their old wounds.  This hope is probably not a conscious hope, but if you have done any amount of therapy, you will know that we gravitate toward mates who have what we are looking for emotionally, only to later find out that looking to someone else to heal our wounds is not at all realistic and just does not happen.  And since the healing does not happen, the marriage is based in shame and that is modeled to the children who become, in the words of my therapist, “little shame-ites.”  I love that.  I can say I love that because I know I became a little shame-ite but I’m working toward NOT being one anymore!

So what behaviors, exactly, are modeled?  Well, conflict-avoidance, conflict-seeking, not expressing emotions, no boundaries, unfair fighting, and withdrawal, to name a few.  Today, for the purpose of not bombarding you with too much information, and to avoid this post reaching epic lengths, I want to talk about conflict-avoidance and conflict-seeking.

Now I’m not trying to brag, but I’ve gotten pretty good at conflict.  After all, I’ve had a lot of practice… throughout the past almost four years, that is.  Why the past four years?  Well, that is the amount of time I have known my husband.  Before he came into my life, there was little conflict.  After he came into my life, there was conflict – sometimes a lot.  And there is good reason for both of these facts:  (1) I saw little-to-no conflict within my family of origin, and (2) he saw a lot of conflict in his family of origin.  You can imagine how well this worked for us in our fledgling relationship and then in our marriage.  For a very long time, I was terrified every single time we had an argument.  In my previous marriage, I recall ONE argument in the course of 5 years together.  ONE.  Of course, being the conflict-avoider that I was, I thought this was awesome.  Turns out, though, it was far from awesome because as I have since learned, if you are not having (healthy) conflict, you are not truly communicating, and among other things, that not communicating thing was a major factor in the demise of that marriage.

So other than the fact that my husband and I were raised differently and had to get used to each other’s style, what’s the big deal about conflict-avoiding and conflict-seeking (and to be clear, my husband is not a conflict-seeker, but he is definitely not a conflict-avoider as I am)?  Well, they can both be shame-based behaviors.  How is that so?  I cannot speak from personal experience on the conflict-seeking aspect, but I have learned that it can be a way to divert blame from ourselves.  If we’re not to blame, then we cannot be wrong and feel shame.  It makes sense, really.  Who wants to be the “bad actor”?  The conflict-seeking approach is definitely proactive – more of a strike first and protect yourself mentality.  And while I get that, I am way more acquainted – intimately acquainted, in fact – with the conflict-avoiding approach.

What I am working on figuring out is how conflict-avoidance ties into shame, and so far what I have learned is largely based on examining my own behaviors and motivations.  I have learned that despite all of the conflict experience I have acquired in the recent years, I still feel deep discomfort when it arises.  Rather than face it head-on, given the choice, I would avoid it all day long.  Seriously, if I avoid it, it will just go away, right?  WRONG.  In case you haven’t heard, that issue that you avoid and stuff down will rear its ugly head somewhere in your future.  And the issue will magnify.  And I know this, but I would still prefer to ignore and avoid.  And why is that?  Well, if I really get honest with myself, it’s because avoiding it is safer.  Hiding myself is safer.  If there’s no conflict, I don’t have to face the issue, whatever it is.  If there’s no conflict, I cannot possibly be wrong (and being wrong is certainly a tough concept for a shame-ite).  If there’s no conflict, there’s no chance I will be called out.  Blamed.  Feel my shame.  But more than all of that, if there’s no conflict, I don’t have to be vulnerable.  And vulnerability is so incredibly difficult for someone like me who struggles so much with shame.  If I don’t have to be vulnerable I can stay tucked away in my dysfunctional little conflict-avoiding “safe” world.

So why is this dysfunctional???  Well, as I mentioned above, if there’s no conflict, there’s a really good chance there’s no real communication – someone in the relationship is doing a whole lot of stuffing.  Now, I am not saying we should experience conflict in EVERY relationship we have.  Obviously, relationships vary in depth.  But those deep relationships where there is honesty and trust and vulnerability?  Yeah, those should have conflict.  There are two people with two different opinions and viewpoints and desires and life experiences.  We cannot agree about everything all the time.  But the conflict needs to be healthy.  It cannot be grounded in shame and blame.  Both people need to listen to the other, and try hard to understand the other’s point of view.  Empathy should be present, and a spirit of cooperation is also really helpful.  In conflict it is so easy to view the other person as an enemy (my husband and I have fallen into this trap too many times), and when that happens, empathy and cooperation tend to fly out the window and shame settles in.  If we view conflict as evil, the natural result if to view the one with whom we are having conflict as the enemy, and do we ever want to cooperate with the enemy?  But if we view conflict as another means of communication, with the goal of coming to a place of compromise and understanding, working together as partners can actually happen, and the likelihood of shame coming to play is very low.

I joked earlier that I have gotten pretty good at conflict.  I still suck at it, actually, but I am no longer terrified every time it is present.  I am still working hard at keeping my shame in check in the midst of conflict, and that is really really hard.  It involves a lot of deep breaths, thinking before responding, and serious self-talk.  It also involves remembering that the party with whom I am in conflict is not my enemy.  That party is typically my spouse or a member of my family, and under peaceful circumstances I would never view that person as my enemy.  But the danger of avoiding conflict is that the conflict actually becomes its own monster.  The fact that there IS conflict becomes bigger than the conflict itself.

I am beginning to understand why conflict was avoided in my family of origin.  The collective stories from both sides of my family help me make a lot of sense out of the way I was raised.  I wish I had learned healthy conflict within my family, but I learned many other healthy habits and values for which I am so grateful.  And as you can tell, it truly never is too late to learn healthy conflict skills.  I have seen my closest relationships transform by putting into practice what I am learning (when I take those deep breaths and think before I speak, that is).  I even recently had a family member express gratitude to me for the issues we have worked through over the recent past.  I never expected to receive this expression, but when I did, I felt so encouraged.  That relationship, by the way?  Yeah, it’s deeper and stronger than it ever has been.  It’s not perfect – no relationship is, but it’s growing, and that is what matters most to me.

I am the first one to recognize and acknowledge that conflict is hard.  As I stated above, I still try to avoid it at all costs.  If you can relate to being a conflict-avoider, then I encourage you to seek help developing healthy conflict skills and begin to experience positive transformations in your own relationships.  If you recognize conflict-avoidance in your own family, be the one to break the cycle and model healthy conflict to the ones you love.  Your actions alone can promote health and healing that will last lifetimes.

let’s talk (with kids) about social media

An interesting discussion took place at my home last night.  It involved social media – specifically facebook – and feelings.  The participants were me, my husband, my step-daughter, and my step-son.  My husband and I are former facebook users, and my step-kids are both too young to have their own accounts, but that does not necessarily mean any of us are immune to being a part of the social media platform.  As anyone who uses the service knows, your picture can be posted without your permission, and anyone can mention you  or post about you without your permission.  You can have a presence without your knowledge or consent (that’s a bit frightening, but not what I want to talk about today).  Our previous conversations have focused primarily on the fact that once you post something online, it’s out there and you have zero control over what happens to that information, but this time our conversation was mainly about self-esteem, self-worth, and comparison.

Our conversation specifically centered on receiving and not receiving accolades on social media, and the feelings surrounding both.  I won’t go into details, but let’s just say that one child was mentioned on a facebook user’s page for the child’s achievements, and the other was not, due (presumably) to the fact that the other child had not achieved quite as much.  Now, in my opinion, both children achieved, and achieved well, and I made sure each knew that, but that message probably lost out to the original message which was that one was left out while the other was essentially paraded to who-knows-how-many “friends.”

My husband and I frequently discuss facebook and other social media platforms with the kids.  They know we both had facebook accounts, and they know that neither of us have them anymore, and they know why.  They are growing up in an age where social media is the norm, but we do not want them to just accept the norm without questioning it.  We want them to decide for themselves, after being fully informed, whether facebook, Instagram, twitter, or any other social media platform is right for them before joining just because seemingly everyone else has an account.

I fear that we are raising a generation that will look to social media for approval… that if something they post doesn’t garner enough “likes,” then they’re, well, not liked.  And if something they post does receive a lot of “likes,” then they’re set – they’re liked.  The problem with this (ok, just one problem) is that the online community is not community.  “Friends” are not real friends.  Connecting on facebook or Instagram is not connection.  And we are hard wired for connection.  Connecting on the internet is shallow and will never provide the authentic connection that we as humans crave.  Authentic connection means connecting authentically.  Ok, I know that was not very helpful. Authentic connection means sharing meaningful conversation, opening up and revealing feelings, needs, desires, successes, failures, heartbreaks, dreams, hopes, and fears.  Who does that, truly, with all of their facebook “friends”?  So when we connect on social media, often we are left hollow.  And that ultimately leads to shame.  It’s a path that one has to travel, and shame is the result.  If we are not connected, we begin to fear something is wrong with us because of the lack of connection.  The next step is to begin to think that the something that is wrong with us is that we are unworthy of love and belonging.  No one wants to connect because we are not good enough.  Ick.

During our family conversation last night we talked about the various feelings involved, and they ranged from being proud to be mentioned to being sad and a little hurt for not being mentioned.  My husband and I could understand both sets of feelings, and knew there were teachable moments for both.  Being proud of oneself is great.  It took me a long time of living this life before I was able to say I was proud of me.  But when I did, it was because I embarked on something I never thought I would be able to do (law school), and I actually did it quite well.  I said I was proud of me before anyone other than my family and closest friends told me.  I came to that conclusion nearly on my own and it helped me push through when it was most challenging.  Social media was not a part of my life when I applied for and began law school, and I am so glad, because I shudder to think of how I would have been affected throughout that part of my law school journey if I had been relying on others for my confidence to make it through.

Not being mentioned and feeling sad and a little hurt about it is also completely understandable.  In fact, my husband admitted that he struggled with that very thing when he was on facebook. But the danger here is taking it to that next level of “because I was not mentioned, I am not worthy.”  And again, feeling unworthy always leads to shame.  Looking for our value and self-worth from comments or likes on facebook or any other forum will, at some point, leave us feeling empty, especially if we start comparing ourselves to others.  There always have been and always will be ready opportunities to compare ourselves to others, but never has it been easier than now.  When I was growing up, I compared myself to my sister, my friends, and people I saw on TV, movies, and in magazines.  That was plenty.  But now, the comparison web stretches so much further, and it seems to be never-ending.  It’s hard enough to sift through what’s realistic and what isn’t as an adult, but imagine trying to do that as a child.  I shudder.

Finally, our conversation touched on perfectionism.  As one who has struggled my entire life with perfectionism, but who has only recently been made aware of the struggle, I believe it is more important than ever to discuss with our children that what you see on social media is not real life.  It is a snapshot of what people want you to see.  As I have said before, few of the billions (I don’t think that’s an exaggeration) of social media users actually post their real life ups and downs.  So what we’re left with is a skewed version of life.  If we don’t filter what we see through a strong reality check, we can begin to believe that everyone has a perfect life but us.  And I can tell you from what I have read and from my own experience that perfectionism leads straight to shame.  Because perfect does not exist in our lives, and because there is no possible way to become perfect in this life, we are fighting a losing battle.  And if we believe that we can, in fact, achieve perfection is some area of our life, because we will ultimately fail, that failure will lead to feelings of unworthiness.  I must have failed because I suck.  Because I suck, I am unworthy.  I don’t know about you, but I do not want the children in my life to be saddled with perfectionism because it’s the primary message they are receiving from this social media world we live in.

At the end of the conversation, we thanked the kids for being honest with us about their feelings and encouraged them to think about what they want for themselves regarding social media.  As I mentioned before, this was not the first conversation about the topic, and it certainly will not be the last – much to the kids’ chagrin, I’m sure!  But every time we talk about stuff like this – including their feelings – it gets easier.  Every time we talk about something that is uncomfortable, it gets a little less uncomfortable.

I have said it before and it bears repeating:  I am not on a mission to get anyone to stop using social media.  What I am on a mission to do is to get people to start thinking more about the impacts social media has on their lives and the lives of others.  Something that seems innocent might actually cause a lot of harm.  We cannot tiptoe through life constantly worrying about what may or may not hurt someone else’s feelings, but we can become more aware, and often simple awareness can lead to big positive changes.