Monica Lewinsky: Turning her Pain into Good

Photo credit: TED Talk

Photo credit: TED Talk

Lately I’ve been viewing life through the lens of the identity challenges we face.  Monica Lewinsky’s recent TED Talk, The Price of Shame, was ripe with examples of the intense scrutiny, shame, and pain we face in the process of facing ourselves, our past, and the sins of our youth.

I must admit that when I heard she did a TED Talk, (over 2.2 million views at time of publishing) my first reaction was probably like many of you—a small chuckle, or maybe a bit of shock.  My only other experience or interest in TED Talks (Technology, Engineering & Design conference) was with the wildly popular presentation by researcher Brené Brown on shame and vulnerability.  When I heard that Monica quoted Dr. Brown, I wanted to watch Monica’s talk.

The last most of us adults remember of Monica Lewinsky, she was a young intern working at the White House in 1998.  Her life became public fodder and the epicenter of an investigation that led to the impeachment of President Bill Clinton.  She was used as a political pawn, suffering intense shame and public humiliation.

Seventeen years later, at 42, now with a masters in Social Psychology, she has resurfaced with grace and dignity to tell her story.  (I read that she personally wrote her speech and hired a speech coach months in advance to prepare her for this presentation.)  Her talk started out humorously asking the audience if anyone had ever made a mistake or done something they regretted at 22 years old.  (Personal note: guilty as charged!)  Her presentation was riveting, compelling, and professionally and eloquently delivered.

In her TED Talk, she said, “I was patient zero of losing a personal reputation on a global scale almost instantaneously.”  On Thursday, March 19, 2015, she risked everything once again, facing her critics, facing a new generation of adults, and walking into the online firing squad—the new arena of social media.

Would the world now be kind?  Would political pundits seek to use her again as ammunition in the next presidential campaign?

Why now?  In answer to that question Monica said, “It has nothing to do with politics.”  She went on to say its “time to stop tip-toeing around my past…and time to take back my narrative.”

There it is:  her identity—and the power of story!

Photo credit: TED Talk

Photo credit: TED Talk

It is no coincidence that Monica quoted Dr. Brené Brown in her presentation.  Dr. Brown is a noted shame researcher with over 20 million views on her TED Talk, The Power of Vulnerability.  It is the 4th highest viewed TED Talk.

Local therapist and life coach Linda Reed, MA, LMHC, CDWF, who facilitates groups based on Dr. Brown’s materials, spoke about shame and vulnerability at a Celebrate Recovery meeting last year.  She shared her insights with us in the post, Wholehearted Living through Celebrate Recovery.

In recovery we say “we are as sick as our secrets.” 

We need to be seen for who we really are and not hide behind a mask of shame.  We need empathy and acceptance from others to help us move beyond our fears and painful emotions we carry because of what we have done in the past or what others have done to us.  It rebuilds our self-esteem and empowers us to live brave.

One small way we do that at Celebrate Recovery is attending weekly open share meetings.  We provide a safe environment for people to take off their masks and share their hurts, habits, and hang-ups.  A deeper way is by working through the 12 Steps in a structured and guided group setting.  With either option, grace and empathy are vital ingredients served on a platter to hungry participants.  We also place tremendous value on our testimonies (shared from the stage every other week) and turning our pain into God’s good purpose by serving others (Step 12).

Monica quoted Dr. Brown in saying “shame can’t survive empathy.”  It’s nice to know there is a place like Celebrate Recovery where empathy prevails and shame fails to keep us captive.

It takes tremendous courage to face our fears and to come out into the public arena again like Monica did.  She is not letting her past define her.  And now she is going to use it for good!  She is using her painful experience to bear weight on and bring attention to cyberbullying and online humiliation.  I imagine it is not a role that she eagerly embraced.  After watching her TED Talk, I’d have to say that she is a great advocate for this cause.  It is definitely worth one’s time to watch “The Price of Shame.”

I applaud Monica Lewinsky.  After 17 years she is not being shamed into silence any longer! And neither should you!

Shame isn’t an exclusive commodity to public figures or those humiliated online.  It happens in our everyday lives, to everyday people.  Don’t let shame rule you or keep you wearing a mask.

Interested in breaking down the barriers to living a life of resiliency to shame?  Click this link to find a Celebrate Recovery meeting near you.

“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” James 5:16, NIV

Contributed by a leader at Celebrate Recovery on the Plateau.

Celebrate Recovery on the Plateau is a Christ-centered recovery program designed to help people with their hurts, habits and hang-ups. We are a ministry of Pine Lake Covenant Church, Sammamish, WA.

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Posted in Recovery Principles, Sharing Our Stories

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