When I think about the incredibly complex and important topic of suicide prevention, three things immediately come to mind; shame, perception and vulnerability. Time for some truth-telling on my part, I have struggled with all three many, many times. I do not pretend to know the suffering and situational stressors that have played a role in countless suicides, but I would be willing to bet that shame played a big part in the vast majority. Shame is the very powerful and lethal source of so much suffering. When we live in a highly competitive, image driven culture, shame can be a particularly insidious inhabitant. It invites its friends, silence, judgment and secrecy, and soon they start to trash your house. From the outside, everything may look just fine, but inside, it’s a mess.
I will admit that discussing shame is a tough prospect. Our culture especially as it relates to social media doesn’t really lend itself to empathic conversation and the desire to present ourselves and our lives in the best possible light is powerful. It is very easy to judge our inside by someone else’s outside, leading to as the saying goes “compare and despair”. It’s easy to forget that there are people who love and cherish us; that as long as our heart beats we can find purpose and meaning. We forget that the potential for happiness remains ever present.
I have developed tools to get me out of my head and into action to help relieve the grip of negative thoughts over my mind. Sometimes those tools work marvelously and sometimes, I need a little extra help. Over the years, through my personal and professional life, I have widened my perspective of struggle. I do not see it as a flaw or an embarrassing secret and have worked hard to dispel that notion in my sphere of influence. I understand struggle can cause a chemical response in the brain that activates emotional responses which can lead to some dark places. Those dark places exist for me, as they do for so many, and I have to work very hard some days to fight my way back from them. That is the truth.
Once negative thoughts take hold, evidence of worthlessness can be very easy to find; your perspective becomes conflated and anything good you have ever done can be lost to the evidence of your unworthiness. These are the times when support systems are imperative. Empathy is the antidote to shame. Connection is vital and, honestly, life-saving; and so comes vulnerability.
Our greatest fear and greatest strength can be found in vulnerability. I understand vulnerability as the willingness to allow others to see me struggle, speak my truth and be open to kindness. It requires from me a bit of faith; that allowing myself to be vulnerable will lead to strength and connection. It’s impossible to have true connection to others without vulnerability. I do my best to cultivate relationships with safe, empathic people and have found those relationships allow me to be authentic, both giving and receiving of empathy, kindness and trust.
I believe in the power of connection and vulnerability and want to dispel the notion that people who struggle are flawed; that asking for help and seeking assistance is weak. Reaching when you are in need is an act of bravery. Be well!
Here are some terrific videos on the topics of shame, perceptions and vulnerability: