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  • Writer's pictureJanice Otremba

“Shame is a Shitty Dance Partner”

Updated: Jan 12, 2023

The movie, Mean Girls, has been out for almost two decades now, so if this is a spoiler… so be it (and yes, I’m that old): The cliques break up and everyone starts doing their own thing in the end. The moral of the story is simple; it is OK to be different. It is OK to stand out and have the courage to be yourself. More than OK, it is vital to your overall health (bus or no bus).

First Impressions or Lasting Impressions?

Research shows people make up their minds about us in less than a minute after we walk into a room.

Within seconds, they've already made assumptions about our status, intelligence, sexual orientation, and level of promiscuity. In a job interview, they've even made assumptions on our ability to fit into the job description and the company culture before we've opened our mouths to introduce ourselves.

Once we do start talking, their brain is unconsciously looking for data to support the opinion they've already formed. We can see it happening as the conversation unfolds; we know they're judging us.

Because we look different…

Because we dress different…

Because we don't fit into the mainstream version of what "normal" looks like through their lens.

We might be too fat or too thin; too old or too young; too much, too something, too anything.

Ultimately, we aren't just challenging their definition of what is "normal", we're challenging their definition of themselves and what they’re comfortable with. Depending on their level of self-awareness and commitment to not judging a book by its cover, the beliefs they create before they know us may or may not be something we hold the power to change by influence.

Steven Pressfield wrote in ‘The War of Art’, that those who criticize, and judge are doing so because they aren't being true to themselves. When we see others living their authentic selves, it drives us crazy if we have not lived out our own. Our judgments, he said, come from a resistance to be who we really are.

The Courage to Stand out

We need people who see the world through different perspectives. Without the collaboration of brilliant minds who think, feel, and live differently, we would have no creativity, no innovation, no passion, and no challenges to overcome. Life would be bland, predictable, and unfulfilling.

It takes courage to stand out and open yourself up to potential judgement or loss of approval by those who are committed to misunderstanding you.

From countless studies, we know feeling socially isolated or excluded has been proven to be one of the most detrimental factors to physical, mental, and cognitive health.

American psychologist Abraham Maslow set "love and belonging" as one of our basic human needs. Social acceptance, he said, is a prerequisite to developing self-esteem and confidence.

However, this research has been adapted over time. Renowned American research professor, best-selling author, and keynote speaker, Dr. Brené Brown, speaks on the difference between ‘fitting in’, and ‘belonging’ in her best-selling book, The Gifts of Imperfection:

“Fitting in is about assessing a situation and becoming who you need to be accepted. Belonging, on the other hand, doesn’t require us to change who we are; it requires us to be who we are.”

We find normalcy in being with people who look like us, talk like us, and dress like us; However, if our authentic self is constantly at odds with how we’re showing up within those groups, fitting in will never provide the comfort, community, and richness, true belonging can afford.

The path of least resistance (fitting in) is a treacherous route disguised as a shortcut to joy, connection, and fulfillment. However, if conforming truly goes against your authentic self, you will lose all sense of direction and find yourself in physical, mental, and emotional disharmony.

You may find yourself feeling:

  • Distressed,

  • Sad,

  • Isolated,

  • Anxious,

  • Depressed,

  • Isolated,

  • Etc.

Shame lives and festers in the shadows and tucks itself behind every corner. It’s only when we stop and shine a light on our demons that we can diminish the power they have because we gain the conscious choice about whether we want to deal with it or not. Often - and more importantly - this awareness gives us an opportunity to ask for help (because if we could do it on our own, we would have by now).

In the words of my psychologist, “shame is a shitty dance partner”.

A while ago, I worked with a client who was looking to expand her public presence. I was coaching her for an upcoming speaking engagement in front of a live audience. During one of our run throughs, I noticed she was anchoring herself to one spot on the stage instead of using the space available to her. Through honest conversation, she came to realize she was still holding on to the shame she felt as a kid for walking with a limp. She was afraid her disability would overshadow the countless hours of hard work she had put into her presentation.

Talking about her struggles openly gave her the freedom to choose if she wanted to live her life in fear of judgement or own her disability and trust her message would land for her audience.

Self-Actualization & a Commitment to continuous learning

Maslow identified 15 characteristics of the self-actualized person, the individual who is fulfilled and doing all they are capable of.

If you are self-actualized, you:

  • Perceive reality efficiently and can tolerate uncertainty,

  • Accept yourself for who you are,

  • Are spontaneous in thought and action,

  • Are problem-centered (not self-centered),

  • Have an unusual sense of humor,

  • Can look at life objectively, and

  • Are highly creative.

In perceiving reality efficiently and tolerating uncertainty, we learn to filter judgement and criticism from others. We can ask ourselves, “who am I letting influence my life, decisions, and beliefs about myself?”.

Trust me when I say… the realizations may not be easy. It takes a lot of personal growth and work to feel unaffected by criticism, and even the most resilient, successful, and talented people often struggle with this. It all boils down to how you allow those judgements to affect you and to what degree.

In the coaching world, first impressions are directly tied to a perceived level of credibility. If I show up to a session looking unwell, scattered, or unprepared for the meeting, it impacts the quality of my interaction with my client.

How can I talk to people about managing stress when it appears like I'm not doing it well myself?

I’ve been a public figure for decades, so this internal battle isn’t new to me. Even still, I know I will feel these feelings again. In moments where I start to feel shame seep through the cracks of my courage, I remind myself I will:

  1. Stay committed to bringing my inner self back to a state of congruence with my external self, even when it is hard. This means, listening to my intuition first and foremost.

  2. Honor my journey and not belittle, bully, or shame my present self throughout the growth process.

  3. Prioritize a seat at the table for my own voice to shine through in my beliefs, decisions, and conversations having to do with my own life.

  4. Show vulnerability when I feel safe to do so, balancing who I am sharing my truth with and under what circumstances.

  5. Look for the things that bring me joy and act upon them.

The fun part of this self-evolution is when you are willing to stand alone and be congruent, you will find you inevitably attract other courageous individuals who are willing to be different just like you.

It takes courage to be different and own it.

To resist the pressure to change and conform.

To stand alone.

To be weird and wonderful.

To show up and announce boldly, "this is who I am."

Who are you?

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