I think we have all been struck this week by the story of the three women found in Cleveland who were kidnapped 10 years ago. They were abducted as teens and held hostage in a house for a decade, just miles from their families and homes.
I was moved to tears when I heard a news report about this story — what amazed me was how different the narrative is now about tragedies like this and I thought, “Wow! Look at how far we have come as a society.” The story was on NPR and what was said was, “While everyone is eager to hear their story, what these women need now is time and space to heal. We know now that humans can heal from great tragedy and go on to live happy, and full lives. This is something that has been done to them. Not who they are.”
I realized I was witnessing evidence that our society is moving away from the model of blaming and shaming the victim. While I know many of us have been advocating for this for a long time, to hear words like that said on a national news report made me get just how much progress we have made.
It made me reflect on Brené Brown’s compelling research on shame. She was recently on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday show and she shared some powerful lessons about how to heal. She has written the books, The Gifts of Imperfection and Daring Greatly.
She defines shame as the intensely painful feeling that we are unworthy of love and belonging. But shame cannot survive two things — being spoken and empathy.
She says that it’s very important that we speak our shame — but only to those whom we trust to hold that healing space for us and who can stand with us in the pain with empathy. Isn’t that powerful?
We all need that 1 friend in our life — the one who can bear the weight of our shame story and love us in that vulnerability.
I am lucky — I have 4 of those people in my life. My husband, Chris, and my 3 closest friends, Monica, Lisa and Pema. We have held that space for each other over the past 10-15 years and we are all healed because of it.
Recently, I was thinking about all the things that happen to children that make them feel shame. Sometimes, it’s something horrific and insidious like being molested or abused. And sometimes it’s just hurtful words, like someone telling them their stupid or unlovable.
But the difference between a child who learns to feel shame and the one who doesn’t can be the tender caring of just 1 person who says, “This is just something that happened to you, not who you are. You are good and deserving of love.”
So what I wish for those brave women in Cleveland is that they are surrounded by people who love them and will help them heal.
I am sending prayers to them for complete healing and the knowledge that they are smart, beautiful, and strong. Please join me. And while we are at it, let’s include all the children who have been harmed — including ourselves.