No one wants to talk about shame. It is the emotion we attempt to numb, deny, and avoid. And yet we all suffer from feelings of shame – shame is the emotion that makes us feel small and makes us want to hide. Despite our innate aversion to shame, it really does help to bring shame to the light.
Brené Brown is a shame researcher – her job may make her sound bookish and boring, but I assure you: Brown is someone you would want to be friends with. Brown is authentic, and kind…and funny (yep, a funny researcher!).
Brown asserts that the greater one’s shame is, the less they will talk about it. The best way to foster “shame resiliency” is to talk about shame (shame can never fully disappear, but its power over us can be greatly diminished – however, keep in mind: negative emotions are essential for mental health*). Brown states:
As a shame researcher, I know that the very best thing to do in the midst of a shame attack is totally counterintuitive: Practice courage and reach out! ~ Brené Brown
Shame and guilt often get confused as the same thing, but they are different. Think of guilt as “I have done something bad”, versus shame: “I am something bad”. If you say these two statements aloud, you can probably feel a difference in your body – the shame statement feels “weightier”. Maybe your throat tightens up, or you feel a heaviness or butterflies in your stomach.
Guilt is just as powerful, but its influence is positive, while shame’s is destructive. Shame erodes our courage and fuels disengagement.
~ Brené Brown
Guilt can be motivating – it can cause us to strive to amend our wrongs. Shame on the other hand, can be debilitating, causing us to attack Self (strengthening our inner critic; perfectionism; believing something is “wrong” with us), or attacking others (blaming; judging; contempt; rage; violence).
Brown suggests that we tend to judge in the areas where we are doing the worst, where we struggle the most with insecurity and our sense of worthiness. When we judge others, we pick people who are doing worse than us (our judgments about others have much to teach us about ourselves – for more on this read: https://blacksheepcounselling.com/2017/08/projection/).
Shame is highly correlated with addictions, bullying, depression, violence, aggression, suicide, and eating disorders. Guilt is inversely correlated with those things.
~ Brené Brown
How can you strengthen your shame resiliency?
- Practice self-compassion: https://blacksheepcounselling.com/category/self-compassion/
- Take responsibility
- Practice humility
- “Big picture” what is going on (fixating on a problem or trying to avoid/numb will not ease our distress around it)
- Tap into your sense of humour: https://blacksheepcounselling.com/2017/08/embracing-humour-to-increase-well-being/
- Engage with others (isolating will often cause our shame to increase)
Brown has a great means of relieving distress around shame. When dealing with a “shame attack”, she will reach out and connect with a trusted individual and announce she is experiencing a “shame spiral”, and talk through her discomfort (she is using both humour and engaging with others to alleviate her shame).
If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can’t survive. ~ Brené Brown
*A crucial element to our wellbeing is the ability to acknowledge and express a full range of emotions. When we attempt to suppress uncomfortable emotions, we also diminish our sense of contentment. Psychologist Jonathan M. Adler posits that “acknowledging the complexity of life may be an especially fruitful path to psychological well-being” (in other words: we need a range of emotions as a means of evaluating our experiences). Negative emotions help us better assess areas we may need to pay attention to. Have you ever tried to ignore or suppress an uncomfortable situation or issue in your life only to have it show up in your subconscious (e.g: dreams)? Yep, me too….
Acceptance of our emotions is key to our mental health. For more on this, see my blog on cultivating mindfulness practices: https://blacksheepcounselling.com/2017/05/mindfulness-shmindfulness/
“…feelings like disappointment, embarrassment, irritation, resentment, anger, jealousy, and fear, instead of being bad news, are actually very clear moments that teach us where it is that we’re holding back. They teach us to perk up and lean in when we feel we’d rather collapse and back away. They’re like messengers that show us, with terrifying clarity, exactly where we’re stuck. This very moment is the perfect teacher, and, lucky for us, it’s with us wherever we are.” ~ Pema Chödrön
I find shame to be the most challenging of emotions to contend with. If you find yourself feeling trapped in a continual shame spiral, reach out to a trusted friend or family member, or try therapy: firstname.lastname@example.org
Brené Brown: 3 Things You Can Do to Stop a Shame Spiral | Oprah’s Life Class | Oprah Winfrey Network:
Brown, B. (2007). I thought it was just me (but it isn’t): Making the journey from to “what will people think” to “I am enough”. New York, NY: Penguin Random House.
Kaufman, G. (1980). Shame: The power of caring. Cambridge, MA: Schenkman Publishing Company, Inc.
Nathanson, D. L. (1992). Shame and pride: Affect, sex, and the birth of the Self. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company.