HOW SHAME KEEPS US STUCK
This is a post that I have wanted to write for most of the year.
However, have put off writing it through fear, through a concern that I was adding to the noise somehow, making things worse for women, that maybe I wouldn’t be believed, or I would be accused of making it up, or not telling the whole story.
That’s how people stay quiet.
It’s a tactic that has been used against us for many many years, and it’s why it’s so damaging when we use it against one another now.
Last week was tough for women, all women, and for as many women who have spoken up about their experiences, wanted to take action, pulled panels together, ramped up their mission-led work, there are as many again who are just too damn exhausted to give anything of themselves in the pursuit of change.
I probably sit somewhere in the middle.
There have been so many things I have wanted to say, so many sides of the fight, the racism, the memories of abuse, the lessons of “it’s your job to protect yourself” and oh look you didn’t…so now accept the shame of the attack and the added shame of “I told you so”.
The mixed messages are everywhere.
Be free, but be careful
Take risks, but listen to your gut
Have a voice, but don’t shout, swear or say anything unsavoury
I’ve been thinking about and speaking (where it feels safe) about the topic of shame in business for most of the year. I think it was a hangover from last year, having a financially successful year in a year where so many others struggled; combined with a couple of specific incidents that happened at the start of the year where a small number of people questioned my ethics.
“You should be ashamed of yourself making money from vulnerable people during this time”….and for context, this was a £25 product, not someone’s life savings. And then having a double whammy of being told by another business coach “you shouldn’t judge someone who is on a low wage” when I shared my frustration in a closed group. FYI…I buy £25 products and am not on a low wage.
We are all entitled to our opinion, and to voice our views on things…its called feedback, and sometimes its asked for, and some times it most definitely isn’t. A cautionary tale about getting to big for your boots, standing out…it always ends in tears right?
We are supposed to toe the line as women.
The narrative is often that we should grow slowly, stay under the radar, be humble, share the wealth, do good, don’t rock the boat. Oh and we should also stay silent when people do shitty things, because nobody likes a tell tale, nobody likes a snitch, nobody likes hearing about playground fights.
There is a lot of shame knocking about in the online business world.
It shows up in us as anything from a slight unease to crippling anxiety…as a result of anything as pedestrian as not understanding a piece of software or an acronym everyone else is using, to having to accept you have just wasted £3000 with a coach who used hard-sell tactics and now you have realised this isn’t what you need, nor what they promised at all.
Then there’s the…”OMG there is someone else in my industry doing the same thing as me” panic, using the same tagline “SHIT which of us was using it first?” and the “Oh no we are launching at the same time” and the “Are promos allowed in this group?” and the “We are using the same VA, who does she like more” the list is endless and the impact exhausting.
And the worse thing? Every time someone writes this kind of stuff about another coach, or writes those annoying cryptic messages like “What goes around comes around, this is a small world lol” posts, a lot of women in the coaching world will be like “is she talking about me?”
I’ve heard unethical stories this year about coaches that would make you wince, would leave you standing with your mouth agape, like “ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?”, coaches who say they stand for one thing, but have been caught red-handed doing the absolute opposite, and covering their tracks with follow up/counter attacks of unethical behavior, or reputation ruining threats.
This is not a post about the coaching world being broke…because actually it’s not just coaches…and I don’t think the industry is broke, just maybe a little tired of the same bullshit…ready for something different.
Brene Brown in this absolutely incredible podcast episode talks about the difference between shame, guilt and embarrassment….and it changed everything when I listened to it 2 weeks ago, in fact, I listened to it through twice, just to ensure it went in.
When someone tries to shame you into thinking, feeling or doing something that suits their agenda, they not only attempt to take away your power, but they can trigger old shit that forces you into fight or flight, which sometimes means you don’t check your own behaviour and act in ways that are out of alignment with your core values.
They can make you second guess yourself, look for other examples where someone once said the same or similar…even if twenty years ago in a completely different context. And they know that the layers of shame, the accusations or threats they throw your way will keep you silent…and that silence stops you from finding other people who say,
“Me too…that happened to me too…she did that to me to”
You thought it was you, but actually, it was them. Well, actually it was both of you. But now you can at least look subjectively at your role in letting them affect you in that way. And now you know better, you do better. You protect yourself, you work on having better boundaries, you listen to your gut.
Have I been guilty of behaving in ways I would have preferred not to in life and in business over the past decade, for sure…and if you tell me you’ve never made an off judgement, or a decision that didn’t pan out as you expected, then you are a flipping liar. The point is when you make a mistake you get the opportunity to learn from it and address it, you get to feel bad for the behaviour not for who you are as a person.
When folks call you names, and make false accusations, like their shit don’t stink in an attempt to assassinate your character they do so knowing full well this is not about your behaviour, but about their response to your behaviour and how it made them feel…it is often to do with a lack of control, a sense of not being safe, or a worry that they will lose power or be seen differently by others.
And that sucks for both of you because it leads to feelings of disconnection, abandonment, mistrust, and loneliness…in a time when what we crave is the opposite of those.
So what is the solution?
I think it is about damage control.
- Due diligence when it comes to hiring or working with a new coach or service provider
- Knowing that not everything is always as it appears
- Watch what people do, not what they say…tune into their energy (if something feels off…it always is)
- Being clear on your expectations of others and of yourself
- Having legals in place that protect both parties
- Learning to slow things down and have conscious conversations
- Being super clear on your mission, and reminding yourself of it
- Knowing that not everything or everyone is for you
- Using the unsubscribe and unfollow buttons OFTEN
- Picking your team, your mastermind, your influences carefully
- Building in support that you can trust inherently
Wow that turned into a long one, and I ran out of puff lol.
Its 22.11pm on a Monday night, I have been up since 6.30am and I am done.
These 3 months have felt like the longest of my life…groundhog day unlike no other. The gift of uninterrupted time has been great for focus and productivity, but not for self care and mental health.
But there is hope on the horizon. Change is coming. I guess it’s time for people to work out what role they want to play in that change. It takes all of us. It takes the creation of safe, collaborative, spaces of co-creation and quality communication. We don’t need any more top-down hierarchies…and trust me there are other models.
Watch this space.
Julie Creffield is a Tribe Leadership Expert, Community Engagement Strategist and Creative Business Coach. She is based in East London where for the past 20 years she has been working with hard to reach groups to bring about change.
Working on large cultural projects such as the London 2012 Olympics, and organisations as diverse as The Met Police and The Royal Opera House, she now supports experts, coaches and consultants to grow profitable and impactful businesses with community at their heart.
If you’d like to find out about the programmes, products and services coming up for leaders get in touch via email@example.com
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