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Life as a Shameless Hussy

Midlife is a great time to live fully and freely as a Shameless Hussy!


Some of you are thinking, “Why in the world would I want to be one of those?” Others are quietly noting, “I tried that in my younger years and it got me into a lot of trouble!”


Although the word “hussy” has come to mean “an immoral woman,” in the 16th century it simply meant “housewife” or “mistress of the household” and soon thereafter meant “thrifty woman.” I much prefer words for women that are naked, free of the burdens and distortions of cultural diminishment and discontent. Therefore, I’m all for liberating ‘hussy’ from being another derogatory term for the feminine.


I am the mistress of a household and I’m a thrifty woman, head held high and walking down the street (notice I did not say street walking) with my “green planet” grocery bag (not to be confused with going out bagging some “green”). 


I am definitely a Hussy!


Having given “hussy-ness” its due respect, let’s address the issue of shame.


There are few experiences more challenging on a daily basis than the storms of shame that get stirred up by our expectation of perfection and our confrontations with how we fall far short of our ideals.


I remember being the guest speaker at a fundraising luncheon when I was a college student. I was terribly nervous about stepping into that role in front of my peers. After doing an incredible amount of preparation and delivering my thirty minute talk, a gentleman came up to me and said “You know, it would have been better if you had told that story in third person and then ended with “and that Woman was me.” It took me years to recognize that I didn’t just feel criticized, I also felt ashamed.


Research has shown that there are essential ingredients for creating a shame resilient life--a life lived wholeheartedly from a place of worthiness.  (I recommend Brene Brown’s book, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are (Your Guide to a Wholehearted Life), for your deeper exploration of shame.)


We must be able to recognize and name the experience of shame.


I often hear women say they feel insecure or lack confidence but they don’t feel what is actually there, the feeling that blocks their natural self-assurance. It’s usually shame--that dreadful discomfort that creates a flush in the face, a cringe in the body, a rise in body temperature. Despite the intensity of its presence, we’ll do almost anything to not directly perceive that it is shame we are feeling. Recognizing and naming “shame” as a universal part of our human experience is a critical first step in creating shame resilience.


Instead of recognizing shame, we typically react by moving away, moving toward, or moving against it.


As I heard the man’s review of my college lunch talk, my reaction alternated between wanting to hide (move away) and wanting to tell him off (move against). I’ve also felt the third impulse that we often use to deflect shame, which is to appease and make nice (that is, to move toward).


In the face of these reactive impulses (to move away, move toward, or move against what has triggered shame), you must address what’s actually going on.


Talking about what you are feeling loosens the grip shame has on you.


Having a friend or partner with whom you can say the word “shame,” explore and describe how it has been triggered for you, and discover the underlying vulnerability to which it is attached is an enormous support in liberating yourself from the toxic effects of hidden shame.


By talking about your shame:

·      You bring kindness to the parts of you that feel small, hurt, or inadequate.  Self-compassion is essential.

·      You strengthen your self-awareness and emotional balance.

·      You bring forth a courage that benefits both you and anyone who witnesses you, for there isn’t a human who doesn’t suffer from shame.


Talking about shame is countercultural and counterintuitive. It’s not an easy route to take but it is the path to more freedom and to being your most authentic, confident self. 


Practice Compassion and Acceptance instead of Shame and Judgment


It took me years to recognize that I didn’t just feel criticized about my public speaking, I also felt ashamed. The two usually go together.  It wasn’t only the audience member who had something to say, my own critical voice jumped in and went beyond telling me how I could have done better. This shaming, critical voice was calling me “stupid!” and “the worst public speaker ever!” 


Had I known how to be present with, rather than move away from or against shame, I would have had some compassion for the small, hurt parts of me that wanted peer recognition and acceptance. I would have reassured these parts that I could be trusted to sort through feedback, keeping what was beneficial and leaving the rest, and I could have accepted my vulnerable needs as natural and normal. Instead the man’s words bumped up against my expectations of personal perfection and a shame storm ensued. I was afraid of public speaking for many years, wanting to avoid being exposed as inadequate and imperfect.


Looking back on such experiences we can all recognize what a waste it is to have shame rule us. We can also look at ourselves in current moments and watch for the subtle ways shame can creep back in, holding us back in small or large ways, closing our hearts as we try to hide our hurts.


By midlife we know that perfection is overrated and that what brings the greatest satisfaction is being our authentic, wholehearted, alive Selves. 


Let’s all live as Shameless Hussies!