04/02/2015 12:34 EDT | Updated 06/02/2015 05:59 EDT

Hiding Behind a 'Perfect' Online Life Stops Us From Connecting Offline

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Women taking self portrait with mobile phone

It's a shame.

As the Internet continues to take over our lives, so too do the unrealistic expectations we put on ourselves. Not only do we have to be perfect in absolutely every way, but we have to post photographs on every social media site to prove it.

Here's the thing: Perfection is an illusion. Nobody is perfect and nobody has a perfect life. Really! If there is one thing that is universal to all human beings, it is suffering. Yes, without a doubt, some people are luckier than others and suffer less adversity or face fewer challenges, but suffering is not a measure of worth. And those lucky folks who seem to coast through life without anything ever going wrong? Believe me, they are few and far between. Having problems is normal, not having them is far more unusual!

So it is fascinating to me that most of us -- myself included -- feel shame about our struggles and imperfections. These are fundamental traits of humanity! It makes about as much sense as zebras being ashamed of their stripes.

Researcher and writer, Brene Brown, has explored the concept of shame extensively. In her fabulous book, The Gifts of Imperfection, she defines shame as, "...the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging." According to her research, shame is:

  1. A universal and primitive human emotion
  2. Something we are afraid to talk about
  3. Something that will increasingly control us the less we talk about it.

Brown also argues that hiding our perceived imperfections is inauthentic; it alienates us from others. I have witnessed this both in my own life and in the lives of my clients. When you hide all of your messy stuff, you often do make yourself appear 'perfect' to others, but this also makes people have a difficult time trusting you. Since we all feel we are imperfect, we don't believe that we can connect with others who we believe are perfect. Perhaps we don't feel worthy of them. The irony is, we are all walking around in our own bubbles feeling this way, which makes us build walls up to hide our true selves because of our shame.

Even more tragic is that we usually feel shame about things that we have no control over, like physical or mental illness, infertility, poverty, sexual orientation, abuse, etc. Even the things we can control and feel shame about are usually due to our vulnerabilities, which we all have, and are, again, universal to all human beings.

Here's the thing, it's generally only when we reveal our true selves that we can fully connect and establish true intimacy with others. It is only then that we stop feeling alone in our suffering. In addition, as Brown points out, if you cannot love and accept yourself and all your flaws, how can you truly love and accept anyone else?

It is time to start talking about shame. It is time to start owning our stripes and stop covering them up. Human beings are messy, flawed, and complicated but that is what connect us all.


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