Whether it’s a career change, a house move, or the end of a relationship, change is hard. It’s crazy, right – you can be in a job that feels like it’s sucking your soul, an eating pattern that has you feeling like absolute crap or a relationship you know it’s time to end. And yet when it comes to actually making a big shift, it can feel like wading through treacle.
If you’ve ever found yourself thinking “if it were that easy to change, then I’d have done it already!” then read on – I’m going to shed light on the huge thing that might well be holding you back from turning the change you crave into real action.
Why is change so hard?
When we get bogged down by our fear of taking action it’s usually because we’re being held back by something deep. Something internal, something which we’re often not even conscious that actually impacts us.
And that is shame.
Shame is an amazing emotion for controlling us. When we shame somebody else, it’s often an attempt to stop that person from doing something that embarrasses us.
I remember using it as a teenager. When my father took us out for dinner he had a tendency to be really obnoxious with the waiting staff, and it used to drive me crazy. So I would make fun of him and how he was with the staff because I didn’t want him to embarrass me by treating people in a way which I didn’t agree with. I was consciously trying to lever the power of shame to force him to change.
That’s how big a tool shame can be. The trouble is, as we grow up most of us experience it not as something we’re using (hopefully we’ve developed slightly more advanced ways to communicate our values with those around us!) but as the invisible block that stops us moving forward.
How shame blocks change
When we’re looking at changing our lives, it’s usually because we want to make our life more aligned with who we are.
We want to experience more joy in our life, in our work, or in our relationship, and we know instinctively that the path to more joy is to be more of ourself, to be more authentic, to be more vulnerable.
But to be more authentic, and to be more vulnerable, actually means showing more of ourself to the world.
Even declaring the change that we want to make: “I want to make my green smoothie everyday because I know that will make me healthier”.
…Is quite possibly to be met with a reaction we don’t want. So the commentary swirls round in your mind…
“Will my colleagues think I’m crazy because I want to make a green smoothie instead of grabbing a giant sugary latte like I usually do?”
“Is my husband going to have a go at me because I want to spend a small fortune on a blender?”
Or maybe you really want to have sex more frequently, and that’s the change you’re gearing up to try and make. What will happen when you tell your partner that’s an issue for you? How is that going be met? What will they think?
When it comes to changing something in your life, whether it be your lifestyle, your intimate relationships, or even stepping into more leadership at work, all kinds of fears come up.
It brings to light who we are at the core, and what is authentic to us. And in doing that we’re also shining that light into what others don’t know about us, and that can really trigger shame.
If you’re thinking about making a career change, you’re saying “this is no longer working for me”, to your family, to your friends. It’s like saying “look – here’s who I really am, and it’s not this.”
The unspoken question then becomes, “Well, who are you? And are we going to approve?”
Because when we step into our true selves, when we declare more of ourself to the world, it brings out who we are.
We get exposed at a deeper level, and that can really cause us to be open and vulnerable to criticism, to be open and vulnerable to shame.
And if we’re still bringing and carrying a lot of shame from our past, that we’re not even conscious of, then it can stop us from making those changes.
Moving past shame
Frankly, it doesn’t matter what anybody thinks about whatever it is you want to change. If it is more authentic and more aligned with who you are. If this new habit that you want to bring into your life. (This new job… new relationship… whatever.)
If it’s more aligned with who you are at a deep and individual level, then absolutely you should do more of it, but you have to move through vulnerability to get there.
If you’re thinking about making a big change and wondering what keeps getting in your way, one of the things I highly recommend doing is watching Brené Brown’s great TED talk on vulnerability.
One of the things she says, if we want to experience more of the positives, and the richness, the joy and the love… All of that great stuff happens on just the other side of vulnerability.
And to get through vulnerability we have to go through shame.
We often numb ourselves from experiencing shame with things like alcohol, drugs, too much sex, too much work, too much exercise. All things which will block us off from having to feel vulnerable, and move through to this more joyful place.
To become leaders, we need to move through vulnerability
What we need to do as women who are growing, as women who are stepping into leadership, which is an incredibly vulnerable place to be, is we need to get okay with whatever we’re feeling ashamed of, and let it go.
We need to step into our vulnerability.
We need to open up to the opportunity of feeling ashamed or embarrassed again. Because on the other side of that, lies the change we’re feeling called to make: and the impact we are truly meant to have.
If you could do with some support to open up and create a big change in your life, then working with a coach might be the answer you’re looking for. Helping women move through big changes and overcome the subtle, self-sabotaging shame that can stop us in our tracks is something coaches specialise in.
No idea where to find the right coach for you? Click here to access the One of Many coaching directory. You’ll find skilled, trained coaches specializing in supporting women in everything from career to health, and a whole lot more – or you can search for someone in your area.
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