Overcoming shame is something every individual wants to achieve, but it is always easier said than done. It is pretty easy to get consumed by limiting beliefs or let other people’s thoughts get the better of you. Darrin Tulley is once again joined by Yvonne Alston of Indelible Consulting. This time, she talks about getting rid of shame that does nothing but eat you up from the inside. She discusses how living like Nancy Drew helps her navigate through life despite its many challenges and obstacles. Yvonne also explains the role of forgiveness and therapy in overcoming shame.
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Overcoming Shame And Dismissing Limiting Beliefs With Yvonne Alston
Living Onward Always As The Current Day Nancy Drew
Yvonne Alston is an unapologetically authentic amplifier and advocate for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging. She established Indelible Impressions Consulting to advance important conversations, education, and competencies to help organizations understand the importance of culture and its impact on the human experience.
- After Episode 4 was done recording, our conversation continued as I remained in awe of Yvonne when she began talking about other topics like “Shame.”
- As a result, we agreed to discuss this openly in a safe place where Yvonne vulnerably opened up about the shame she carried around.
- She talks about how it was like an overloaded backpack of items she was wearing and holding her back.
- Yvonne found ways to escape by putting her mind somewhere else and solving mysteries in Nancy Drew novels.
- Over time she learned to take ownership of her shame, let go of what was not her shame, and live onward always.
- Please take a listen and help me make this episode a judgment-free one to allow us to pause and reflect on addressing any shame you carry around.
Yvonne, welcome back. It’s great to see you again. I have been looking forward to this conversation. We started to cover today’s topic at the end of our first episode together. We both agreed we thought it would make sense for us to get back together. First of all, welcome to the show.
Thank you. I am glad to be back with you. I thought it was a very rich conversation. I felt completely comfortable, so thank you for that. I felt like there was psychological safety that allowed me to be brave and transparent. Thank you for creating that environment. I look forward to anything that you and I talk about next. Let’s get after it.
I appreciate all of that and certainly your vulnerability. You are unapologetically authentic. I appreciate that as well. One of the topics we started to chat about was shame. In the first talk, we talked a bit about your legacy and your growing up with your family, your mom in particular. We talked about that. It was a beautiful set of stories. The connections you made were amazing. I’d love to pick up where we left off. What is a shame to you? What’s going on?
I don’t have any clinical definition. I’m not Brené Brown. She has an amazing perspective and definition of shame. For me, it’s any time that I have felt not good about myself, my lived experiences, or even professional experiences that oftentimes translated into devaluing my character, choices, or intellect in very unproductive ways. Sometimes, they were based on things that I might have done or said or where I was subject to, like things that other people had done or said. That’s how I look at shame.
How does that show up for you when you think about it?
I have a very healthy relationship with shame. There was a time when I didn’t. Perhaps because my late mother struggled with addiction and other things I wouldn’t talk about her or engage with her because of shame. I wouldn’t invite her to places because her struggles were evident to others. I felt shame about her choices, where she was, and the illnesses that she had.
This is not to say that addictions are a choice. There’s usually something that precipitates those behaviors and seeks out other things in order to numb hurts, pains, coping mechanisms, and things like that. When I was a youth, I didn’t understand that. I felt ashamed that my mother was in this state of life. I had shame about where my family was financially, how we lived, and where we lived. It was fine when I was among my peers who lived in the same places and understood what it was like to live in financial hardship like that. It was because of shame that I would never have certain friends over and those kinds of things.
As I came to be an adult, I started to understand people more. I certainly started to understand the ebbs and flows of life and what contributes to certain decisions and certain situations that people find themselves in. I learned over time and certainly through therapy to unpack all of that and only put back in my metaphorical rucksack if you will, which is a Military term for the big green backpack that they have, what I owned and what was mine to be in my rucksack. I learned how I was taking and putting other things in there that did not belong to me. That was one way of working through all of that. That was one way to release shame in a healthy way.
That’s a great metaphor that you are sharing as you think about it being packed in our bags. Think about how heavy that is that you are carrying it around with you. Think about how it might be holding you back or limiting potentials, opportunities, and possibilities, how we are being judged, how we might judge the world, or how we think things are happening to us. I can only imagine how it limits our life. It limits us to hold us back. In some ways, maybe it drains us. As you were having the heavier version of this backpack, how does that resonate? How did that impact you? Maybe it was when you were younger or maybe as you look back.
When I was younger, I would keep to myself. I would do a lot of reading. We talked about this last time. I can’t recall if this was more interpersonal or if this was on the episode, but I had mentioned how I loved books and books were an escape for me. What I have since realized is that I had this affinity for Nancy Drew books, these mysteries.
I understand as an adult why I love them so much. Part of that was trying to solve problems within people’s interactions. That was part of what I was trying to do in my own life. The book would allow me not only an escape from my current world and where I was living but also, I understand why I was so drawn to that particular genre of books. It was because it allowed myself in Nancy’s shoes to solve problems. It was things that I could not solve in my own life at that point. There was that.
I mentioned not having people come over. I also think that I saw myself as very limited in terms of my capabilities because my surroundings said so, whether that was evidentiary because of the environment or those were the words that I heard like, “You are never going to be more than this.” Those were the limiting beliefs of individuals who are in my family environment, so how is it possible that they would see me as going beyond that when they couldn’t even see beyond that for themselves? It took me a long time to get beyond that.
I always had something to prove because of the shame. I needed to prove that I was strong. The shame message was, “Horrible things happened to you because you are weak.” Horrible things, this, that, or the third. It was maybe being in a physically violent relationship as a teenager. I was succumbing to that thinking that I was weak. It was then being further ashamed that not only did I grow up in an environment where this was okay, but I find myself oddly in a place and a space where there is physical violence in a romantic relationship at such a young age. It was somewhere I never thought that I would be. That is a lot of additional shame. We talk about the rucksack. I had plenty to gather and throw in over and over again to the point where I wasn’t quite sure who I was outside of those experiences or didn’t see what I could be for those experiences.Shame sends a horrible message that you are weak. To overcome this feeling, you need to prove to yourself that you are strong. Click To Tweet
There’s a lot there. I could understand the desire to read and to get into these mysteries with Nancy Drew and the stories there. I can only imagine the stories you were telling yourself, with all the different things that were happening around you (to you) and the shame that you were feeling. I feel for you because you were having to answer unnecessary questions that were put on you and fight back literally, it sounds like, through violence and unnecessary actions. I can’t imagine how you got through that, having that escape, and solving the problems at the moment. Thank God you did. You looked forward. As you look back, how did you hold it together? How did you work through that?
As a youth, I don’t think productively. I was very angry. I, myself, defensively met sometimes violence with violence. It became a survival mechanism. I also learned how to make myself very small. When we talk about as adults in the work world and some of the work I do with indelible about assimilation, I was constantly having to calibrate or assimilate to the environment as a survival mechanism.
Even going into adult life and being at an institution like Quinnipiac or going and working for organizations where I was one of the few, I had learned the power of assimilation and then also code-switching very early in life. What that yielded was certainly, as I started to become of age and an adult, an identity crisis of, “Who are you outside of these experiences? Who are you outside of what others pigeonholed you to be and people told you were going to be, whether that was positive or negative? Who the heck are you, Yvonne Marie?” I was doing the work to figure that out.
There are a few layers to that as I’m thinking, too. We are told to be something we are not. We are asked to live a different life or look a certain way to fit into certain cultures or to fit into different business models even. We have talked about this quite a bit around authenticity. How can we be our full selves or our authentic selves if we are being told we have to act a certain way or be a certain person?
As I’m hearing you talk through this, a lot of this is the perception that it felt like some of the shame albeit some of it is real and some of it is violent, there’s some level of perception and how others might judge you or judge us in certain situations. There is the doubt and the shame with why you? Why are you being treated that way? Why are you being held back or told a certain thing?
As I became an adult and entered the working world, when we talk about assimilating to the environment, part of that as a Black woman was not sharing those experiences with colleagues. It was certainly anything that I felt could be weaponized against me and become more of a barrier. I already had enough hurdles ahead of me being one of the few, if not the only, on teams and so forth.
I already had, in a lot of respects, the deck stacked against me, so I wasn’t going to give anyone more ammunition. That’s the way I saw it. It wasn’t this, so to speak, outward defensiveness, but internally. In my heart and my mind, there are things that I wanted to show up authentically and unapologetically but didn’t feel the safety there. That’s something that a lot of people grapple with in the workplace and even in family structures.
I remember when I met my husband, Derek, whom you have had the pleasure of briefly meeting. He looks forward to more time to talk with you. Even when getting into a relationship with him, I was nervous about sharing certain things about my past because of something you brought up a few moments ago, which is judgment. I was like, “Is he going to look and say, ‘I feel like she’s attractive and smart, but she comes with a lot of baggage. Do I want to be part of that? Do I want to bring that into my life? There might be other great things that she brings to my life, but if she’s bringing all of her, she brings that, too.’” I was worried about that as to how you might view that and how that would impact our relationship.
The great thing is that that’s not who he is. He allowed me to unpack my stuff. I told him about the work that I have done in therapy over the years and so forth with both unpacking and taking accountability. If anything, he has shared with me how much he admires my strength, my persevering spirit, how my faith has grown and evolved, and to be part of my unapologetically authentic identity. He understands why I’m where I’m at, why I do what I do, and how I do it. He shares with me the perspective that everything is purposeful. I would not be as effective as unapologetically authentic, empathetic, and compassionate as I am but for those experiences. While I don’t say, “Yay,” and celebrate that I went through all that, I do celebrate the outcomes for me and where it has brought me to.
First of all, Derek is pretty special. He’s great. I look forward to connecting with him more. He wants you to be you. He wants the full you. He’s not looking for a part of you. As we enter relationships, it doesn’t work. You can’t fake it for that long. We need to be who we are. There are some people that go into relationships and say, “I got to be in it for at least two years so I could experience everything.”
We have been socialized to what I call sending your representative. You are sending your representative to engage with folks knowing that’s not who you are. You are then forced at some point to choose, “Am I going to live with a mask or when can I show other parts of myself and who I am? Will that be accepted or will I slip up and they will find out anyway?”
Why fake it? You mentioned Brené Brown. You talk about vulnerability. We both believe in stepping into that and doing that with the right intentions to be fully transparent with good intentions. You are going to get people to pick you up. People have picked me up when I have had my shortcomings and my share of guilt, which is different from shame.
Brené talks in that talk about the difference between shame and guilt. You are talking largely about shame, which is about yourself, your perceptions, and things that you are dealing with or struggling with. It is things that are in your backpack that you have unpacked what you want to own and keep and other things that are more perception that you are trying to push away, which is a beautiful message. I’d love to learn a little bit more about how you did that.
On the guilt side, from what Brené says, she gets into the idea that it’s our behaviors. When we recognize that our behaviors are the actions that we took that were not what we wanted or should do, then we should have a little bit of guilt. Honestly, when I went through my awakening, I had a bit of both. I gained that clarity from her.
How she looks at the differences helped me understand what I had to break through, what I had to learn about my shame, and what I had to overcome in my behaviors going forward. It is important to know the distinction between the two. How did you work through it yourself? How did you work through unpacking and getting yourself to a point where you are carrying a lot of loads and you could be the current-day Nancy drew solving puzzles, working with people, making connections, and talking about Indelible Impressions all day long?
I mentioned therapy. That was key. It is finding someone that you can be undone in front of and that is a place without judgment. That’s important as well as one’s willingness to take responsibility and own what you need to own and also not own what is not yours to own. That was a process of learning that, especially when it comes to family members and certain experiences.
I will akin this to that romantic relationship or that intimate partner violence as I understand the terminology to be. Part of that was I felt staying for, “I made him angry,” or, “I was snarky,” or, “I did something that resulted in his inappropriate behavior.” I had carried that forth from my family relationship that I made somebody angry. I made them. There was no accountability on their part. Whether they exercise that verbally or in physical violence, I was always the instigator, if you will. Carrying that mentality forward into that intimate partner relationship, I felt the same way. It was always like, “I made this happen. I said or did something. I’m to blame.”
I was starting to dissect that, analyze that, and understand that both the familial and intimate partner relationships were somebody else’s stuff. That was somebody else’s rationalization. That was someone else’s lack of accountability. That was someone else putting that upon me because they felt shame for what they had done. The difference between guilt and shame, I don’t know that back then any of us, myself or those that I was around, understood the difference.
It became clear to me through therapy that it was their shame that was causing them to blame me and then to us their violence, either violent words, or violent actions towards me or upon me. I had to unpack that. I had to ironically stop centering myself in the narrative as much as this was about them. As long as I kept centering myself in the narrative, I, in my head and heart, had culpability.
I needed to decenter myself from that to say, “If the guy had a bad day, he was mad about something else and exerted that against me.” That was about power and control. That was his thing. I ended up being an outlet for that. I could have said, “How was your day?” Tried to engage in conversations or whatever and the same result would occur as if I had said something awful and something that could incite a disagreement, at least at a minimum a verbal one. It didn’t matter. It was his stuff. I needed to learn how to do that.
Trying to keep that going forward in life has been very important. It helped to inform one of my principles to my daughter as she grew up in her teenage years. She is like, “People are talking about me at school. There’s a rumor,” and all this stuff that teenagers go through. The next iteration of that learning looked like fact versus fiction.
I would try to work with her to say, “What are you upset about? Let’s do the chart. What do you know to be fact and what is fiction?” I’m helping her to be able to discern between the two so that she herself could own what she needs to own and not own the stories that other people were saying about her. It could even be the stories she was telling herself that were based on fiction and not fact.
The stories we tell ourselves sometimes are not based in fact. It’s based on what people told us the way we should feel or that it’s our fault. We jumped the order if you will. You were spot on. It is like, “What are the facts in the case? What is the situation at hand?” Albeit it is part of that stuff, we have to be honest with ourselves and own our stuff, to your point. That’s exactly what you are saying. I’m reinforcing it in a different way. We have to own it. If we don’t trust what we are bringing, then how the heck can we trust the other side and what they are saying for real?
It’s interesting to me because, for many folks, accountability goes hand-in-hand with the defense. For me, accountability is a breath of fresh air. I don’t have this desire to be and exist in perfection. I know that I’m human. I know that I will make mistakes. There’s no need for me to ever feel like if I misstep in some way in life, in dialogues, or whatever that I go back to beating myself up about those things. Instead, it is, “I missed the mark on that.” I apologize.Do not desire to be perfect. You are only human who commits mistakes. There is no need to beat yourself up for every single misstep you take. Click To Tweet
I can take accountability for whatever the impact was to someone else in their life regardless of my intent. The impact is what matters most. I’m not throwing it back in my rucksack and letting that weigh me down, but acknowledging, taking accountability, and then moving on quickly to do better, and going back at it. As human beings, sometimes we spend a lot of time trying to be the most perfect version of ourselves in the truths that don’t exist.
There are different expectations. Brené talks about that, too. We are trying to look at ourselves and have this perfect life. We all do it. There are differences between men and women. With men, we have been taught to have control of our emotions. When we don’t, there’s shame in that. As men, we are taught to hold things in and be emotionless in some ways. I know that folks that are not dealing with emotions will take it out in violence or inappropriate actions.
In large part, when you think about society with things that are going on, there is a crisis in the world with how people are holding these emotions, what they are doing about it, and how they are unleashing it on other people. It’s sad. Other people have not been as fortunate as you as far as how you are working through this, unpacking, and taking the steps forward. In fact, you even have a reminder on your wrist, possibly. What does that say?
It says onward always. This is new ink for me. I did it intentionally because I was reflecting on life. There are so many things that I have had the privilege and the blessing to live through and come onto the other side of. The one thing that has been incredibly consistent throughout is this concept I always had to brush it off and keep it moving. It’s not brushing it off that it doesn’t matter, but brushing the dust, the debris, and whatever from you from the time that you were in the situation or the fight. I don’t mean that physically but more so as a metaphor in this fight of life. Brush it off, get back up, and keep moving.
It is former President Theodore Roosevelt’s “Man in the Arena Speech,” which I have always loved because I have always seen myself that way. I also had the privilege and the blessing of seeing my mom that way in her later years and before she passed away. The new version of the language for me is “onward always.” This is a beautiful reminder to me of where I have been, where I am, and where I’m going. While I don’t know all the answers for the future, the one thing that I do know is that my heart, mind, and soul are a purpose to move onward always. Even when it’s hard and it doesn’t feel like I’m going to make it through this other thing, and yet I do. Miraculously, I do. This, for me, is a beautiful reminder.
It’s a small step that you could take. There are other things that folks can remind themselves of. I have my pink pen. It’s my reminder of being accountable for welcoming differences and understanding what that’s about. There’s deep meaning there. There are so many things we could cover here around this topic. I appreciate you vulnerably sharing. For folks, I want us to look at shame in a certain way and to address it with compassion for ourselves and for each other. It’s so important that we look at that and not blame ourselves. You are looking at it to say, “This is your stuff. What can I do about it? How do I move forward?” You are not ignoring it. You are looking at ways to make it better.
Last time, we talked about don’t be bitter but be better. We talked about how to change that approach. Having empathy for what situation you are in and where you have been, connecting back to that, solving problems as you did with Nancy Drew and the novels, accepting who you are, and showing you are your authentic self, you are where you are based on your learnings, and you are continuing to get better is such an important learning as well. I have one last question. I know we have to run. Have you given forgiveness? Is forgiveness part of the equation?
I’m so glad you brought that up. That’s a huge part of moving forward and bringing it to the place where you can know the difference between shame and guilt. I have come to understand as it relates to my mother and my family that oftentimes, people do the best for what they know at the time. I also know that my mom’s growing up had a particular history that presented more opportunities for her to go the pathway that she did. There was more opportunity than there should have been for her to go the pathway that she did.
Forgiveness is huge. It is forgiveness of others as much as forgiveness of ourselves. That is important. Forgiveness of others is not about letting them off the hook. Forgiveness is for you, the individual, who was perhaps negatively impacted by something someone else said or did. When we live in “unforgiveness,” some people say, “That’s the fire in my belly that keeps me moving ahead.” That could also be the prison that keeps you from experiencing life and joy and becoming the most beautiful, authentic version of yourself.
Forgiveness is for you. Understand that, and then also understand that most people don’t come out the gate in life and want to harm other people with their words or deeds. People make mistakes. Can you forgive that they did the best they do for at the time? If they were to look back in hindsight, they probably would do things a heck of a lot differently. Forgiveness is key. It is forgiveness of others as well as forgiveness of yourself.
That was perfectly said. Thanks for sharing all of this. I know you have been added to the Interval House board, which is addressing many elements of the violence that you are referring to. Congrats on that.
Thanks for stepping in and paying it forward there, too.
I have never shared it outwardly as much as I have about family violence, intimate partner violence, or even about going to therapy. I got to tell you that it feels so good. It’s a part of my story. For Interval House, it is to have people look at me and go, “You are still here and doing this work.” It is important to know that if it is someone’s situation, it hopefully and prayerfully will not be always. You will be able to look back and you will derive growth, grace, and strength from it.
That load that’s on your back has been lightened because you are being apologetically authentically you. You are amazing. Thanks for sharing your story. We will keep chatting. We will be back again, I’m sure. Keep doing what you are doing. You are making an impact on so many levels and with so many people. What’s your phrase? Is it onward always? Is that what it is?
There we go. We will talk soon. Thank you.
Yvonne did it again. She opened up her heart to help us all. This time to cope with the shame that shows up in our life. Consider the following ideas and steps we learned from today’s show:
- I loved how she read Nancy Drew novels as her escape when she was younger and practiced solving mysteries in her imaginary world as a way to gain the skills to solve them in her real life as an adult. NOW, She is the current-day version of Nancy Drew, helping other humans solve complex issues and puzzles through her Company, Indelible Impressions.
- Yvonne points out how important it is to come to grips with our shame, separating fact vs. fiction and not accepting others’ perceptions or issues as our shame. And do the work on what you need to own.
- Forgive others where you can because you are freeing yourself of the shame and baggage weighing you down here; if you can’t, consider speaking with a therapist about how to set yourself free with compassion.
- Support the Interval House, where Yvonne is a newly appointed board member, addressing domestic and intimate partner violence – Yvonne is openly paying it forward. She admits it is part of her story. As she is helping others heal, she is healing too.
- Think about ways to pay it forward in areas where you have felt shame to get more comfortable overcoming it and helping others along the way.
- What is your slogan to keep pushing through? Yvonne’s is Onward Always. Jot some ideas down and experiment with them.
- Remember, I believe there is a beautiful light inside all of us. Ignite it and live your possible!
- Yvonne Alston
About Yvonne Alston
Yvonne Alston is an unapologetically authentic amplifier and advocate for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging. She established Indelible Impressions Consulting to advance important conversations, education and competencies to help organizations understand the importance of culture and its impact on the human experience. Her firm and team focus on centering the employee experience, amplifying personal and professional value, and inspiring hearts and minds as they challenge systems of inequity, champion dimensions of diversity, and drive inclusive practices holistically.