Shame is a dirty word. We run from things that cause us shame, and now as I type shame again and again on this page, I question if I should even be writing about this topic. In her book Daring Greatly, Brene Brown (the shame expert of our time) writes, “Shame derives its power from being unspeakable. That’s why it loves perfectionists-it’s so easy to keep us quiet. […] Shame hates having words wrapped around it. If we speak shame, it begins to wither. Just the way exposure to light was deadly for the gremlins, language and story bring light to shame and destroy it.”
What is shame?
Shame is a tricky word to define, but we all know what it feels like. Shame is the feeling of getting laid off and going home to tell your spouse. Shame is hiding an addiction. Shame is losing your temper in front of your kids. And although we all feel shame, we’re afraid to talk about it. But shame and guilt aren’t the same things. Shame is more of a focus on self. Shame says, “I am bad,” whereas guilt focuses on behavior and says, “I did something bad.” The danger with shame is that the less we talk about it, the more power it has in our lives to keep us alone and to keep us silent. Shame is a fear of losing connection with other people that we care about, and while we can learn to push back against shame, the fear of losing connection will never totally go away.
What do we do about shame?
The most effective way to push back against shame is shame resilience. This means that when we start to feel shame creeping in, we’ll still be able to be authentic and hold true to our values. Shame resilience means not letting shame overpower us, and using the experience that caused us shame to teach us how to have more courage and connection than before. “Shame resilience is about moving from shame to empathy-the real antidote to shame.”
How do we develop shame resilience?
In her research, Brene Brown talks about four key things that individuals with shame resilience have in common.
- Naming Shame and Identifying the Triggers
Recognizing what shame feels like in your body when it starts to creep in. Do you get angry? Do you feel an urge to run away? Does your heart begin to race? Identify what triggered the shame and the events leading up to these feelings.
- Being Aware
Notice the messages and expectations that are driving your shame. Are these expectations in line with your values? Are they realistic? Are these expectations in line with what you want for yourself?
- Having Connection
When these shaming moments come, who do you reach out to? It’s difficult for us to experience empathy if we’re not reaching out to others who can show it to us.
- Naming Shame
Are you able to talk to safe people in your life to share about the moments when you feel shame? How do you reach out to get what you need?
Shame resilience is the best way that we can protect connection; our sense of connection with ourselves and our connection with those we care most about. Learning more about areas where you carry shame in your life can be helpful in relieving the burden. If you’d like to understand more about how shame impacts you, and how to overcome it, you may find it helpful to talk with one of our therapists at Symmetry Counseling. You can contact Symmetry Counseling today to schedule an appointment for therapy in Chicago.
Brown Brené. Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. Avery, an Imprint of Penguin Random House, 2015.