Thursday, May 28, 2015

Shame: We All Have It. What to Do About It

Over the last few weeks, we've been discussing some very sensitive issues: vulnerability, sacred wounds, perfectionism, and what underlies all of them, shame.

People tend to believe that shame is reserved for those unfortunate souls who suffered horribly dysfunctional childhoods, but the truth is that we all experience shame----many of us just don't cop to it. This denial, of course, is what causes shame to go underground and wreak havoc on our minds, emotions, and bodies.

Shame researcher and author Brene Brown, defines shame as the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging. Some of us live from this place, constantly berating ourselves and trying to compensate for our inadequacy, while others are just occasional visitors. But, according to Brown, unless you are incapable of normal human emotions, you do experience shame. The question is: how do you manage it? How do you bolster yourself against it's effects?

Brown writes:
Shame resilience is the ability to recognize shame, to move through it constructively while maintaining worthiness and authenticity, and to ultimately develop more courage, compassion, and connection as a result of our experience....Shame needs three things to grow out of control in our lives: secrecy, silence, and judgment. When something shaming happens and we keep it locked up, it festers and grows. It consumes us. We need to share our experience....If we can find someone who has earned the right to hear our story, we need to tell it. Shame loses power when it is spoken.

So, shame thrives on secrecy, silence, and judgment, and is healed through honest and courageous sharing with others. But notice that Brene specifies that we share with people who have "earned the right to hear our story." What does that mean, and why is it important?

When we share our thoughts and feelings with the wrong people (or under the wrong circumstances), it can backfire and make us feel worse. Therefore, it's necessary to exercise discretion and healthy boundaries when sharing sensitive personal information with others, at least when we are most vulnerable. Someone who has earned the right to hear your (shame) story, is a person you trust to respond with love, compassion, and non-judgment. (Note that later, when you've become less sensitive to the reactions of others, you can be even more courageous about putting your truth out there.)

Other shame resilience recommendations from Brown include:

  • Understanding shame (and guilt)
  • Recognizing what messages and expectations trigger shame
  • Heightening our awareness by reality-checking the messages we receive and expectations we and others place on us. (i.e: reminding ourselves that advertising images do not represent reality, and that nobody's perfect, no matter how they appear)
  • Using/accepting the word "shame," and talking about feelings and needs
  • Connecting with other authentic people 
For more information, please check out Brene Brown's books and audios, The Gifts of Imperfection, Daring Greatly, I Thought It Was Just Me, Women & Shame, and others.