Updated: Feb 10, 2019
What is shame and how is it related to creating the life you want?
Berné Browns researched shame and vulnerability for 12 years. The thing about shame is it can stop us from sharing our creations, ideas and being authentic and vulnerable.
Why is Berné Browns research so important?
You may have heard of words such as grit and resilience. What is the reason behind you giving up on a project, applying for that job or a higher position in your organisation, not starting a business or a passion project when you feel the desire to? It’s all connected to avoiding a feeling a certain way and one of those is shame. Other reasons such as I can’t afford it and I have no time. These are the surface level reasons to avoid feeling discomfort because with less money you may need to live a different way, or you have to make sacrifices in your day to day life.
Those sacrifices may feel as though we are failing because we compare our lives to other people’s lives. If you use your time on yourself, you may feel guilt or disapproval from people. These are all thinking processes that require questioning and understanding to move forward.
Humans are driven by emotions. Everything we do is to feel a certain way. The way you live your life is serving you in some way. Becoming conscious of how it is serving you, this is all about being honest with yourself. Being honest about, where you are now, where you want to be and what do you want to create for your future. Shame resilience is a concept Berné Browns talks about in her book Daring Greatly.
“Yes, shame resilience is the key to embracing our vulnerability. We can’t let ourselves be seen if we’re terrified by what people might think. Often not being good at vulnerability means we’re dam good at shame” - Berné Browns
Berné Brown defines shame as the fear of disconnection. You may think on a logical level that you don’t think this is true for you and I’m going to share with you why it is. All humans need connection, love and belonging at an emotional, spiritual and physiological level. If these needs are not being met you will live an isolated life that can look like addiction, depression, conflict, war and homelessness.
You may be thinking, well, that’s not true for me I just don’t like being judged or I’m a perfectionist so unless I can do it well or perfect, or unless I’m certain of the outcome I won’t try doing it at all. That is usually coming from a place of experiencing shame in your past from when you have received feedback that you perceived as negative.
This is why for some people presenting the perfect version of themselves mean they are avoiding or minimising the chances of someone judging them or giving the negative feedback.
The thought we can have, is I'm not good enough to… who do I think I am …. This is also why there’s pressure to meet a specific goal because if we don’t meet that goal, we feel unworthy or rejected (being pushed away and feeling a sense of disconnection).
“In order to deal with shame some of us move away by withdrawing, hiding, silencing ourselves, and keeping secrets. Some of us move towards by seeking to appease and please. And some of us move against by trying to gain power over others, by being aggressive, and by using shame to fight shame…all of these strategies move us away from connection.”
When we judge we are separating ourselves from that person and we’re looking at how we’re so different. This forms a disconnect. If you’re being judged, it triggers things in you from being judged as a kid or a trauma that you went through. This is why not all judgment impacts us and this why it’s so important that when you’re making changes in your life, you have support from friends, coaches, mentors, psychologist and people in general, that won’t judge you.
Also, the reason why judgment from others can hurt is that we have a deep core belief that it’s true. Become aware of your own judgments you make on others, what they wear, the work they do and the way they look or speak. If you believe this at your core it does not mean it’s true. It may feel true to you and if you want to connect with more people and live a more fulfilling life work on your core beliefs. This is how you see the world and when we can make less judgments, we can connect more.
Think back to when you were growing up, if there was a lack of connection, belonging or love from people around you, when you were old enough you received your connection elsewhere. As children, our lives are in our parents control. We voice our opinion or maybe we don’t want to do something that we’re told to do and your parents/care giver tells you, "well you have to everyone else is doing it and stop being selfish". In many cases we’re not heard because we’re just kids and what would we know? So we conform to the family rules so we don’t get punished. If we don’t get any attention at all we will do anything to get our parents attention. Until the day comes when we realise we can gain belonging, connection and love from outside our families and this leads us to conforming to what our friends are doing. We follow that connection and feeling of belonging our entire lives and if you have felt shame as a kid (we all do) we will also feel shame as adults. So we lose ourselves because we’re so busy trying to belong and fit in that we suppress what we really think, feel, want and desire, we do this to protect ourselves from the emotional feeling shame creates.
This is how shame impacts us without our awareness that it’s shame. I sucked at school and felt dumb. The only time I felt good at school was during PE (physical education). When I was in year 10, I attempted to write an essay and it was very bad. All I remember is that I had no clue where to start with it and the teachers never really knew how to encourage or help me. We had a teacher that was very cruel. Shame was her tool for teaching and boy did she use it. She was fed up with our class’s effort, so she called the principal into our classroom to lecture us on how piss poor our effort was. I got a special mention, “Thelma this is the worst work I have seen …. A 3-year-old could do better…” To be completely honest I can’t remember the rest of the words that came out of her mouth but what I did remember was the wash of shame that came over me (not realising that’s what it was at the time). I thought to myself, I am so dumb and now the teacher is sharing that with the class as punishment. It’s like my truth was being exposed and it hurt. The thing is, I didn’t try because I genuinely thought I was dumb and didn’t know how to. I wondered why I found school so hard and others nailed it. In that same class the teacher proceeded to tell us what our essay “should” have sounded like by reading out one of the students that got an A+. I can’t express how damaging that is for students that are struggling. The teachers have created a disconnect by doing this, there’s a disconnect between the smart kids and the not so smart kids. There’s is also an underlying sense that you have to do the work at a specific standard to be worthy of reward and for those that don’t reach that standard are not worthy and are punished.
The reason I felt shame was because I interpreted that situation as though I am dumb not that my work was terrible. It was terrible because I am dumb. That is what shame is. Shame is when you think your not good enough. Guilt is when you think you should have tried harder and you believe that your work is not a reflection of you and that you could do better, and you feel guilty for not trying.
How does this impact your life?
The way you think about your past and the way it can cause an automatic trigger in your body will impact the way you live your life.
The underlying belief that I am not good enough followed me for a long time. Reading out loud was a trigger for me. This is from feeling shame in class by students and teachers. When I go into fight or flight mode, my heart rate increases, stomach and chest tightens, and I get sweaty and my cognitive abilities are weakened which makes the tasks at hand even harder to complete such as reading out loud or presenting my work to the class. The more structured it was the more pressure I felt. I was not willing to give up my dreams because of these triggers, so I did the work and practice compassion for myself when I get triggered.
Here are some options to deal with shame and heal. Suggestions from Berné Brown's book, Daring Greatly and I use them myself.
1. Recognizing shame and understanding the triggers. Shame is biology and biography. Can you physically recognize when you’re in the grips of shame, feel your way through it and figure out what messages and expectations triggered it?
2. Practicing Critical Awareness. Can you reality-check the messages and expectations that are driving your shame? Are they realistic? Attainable? Are they what you want to be or what you think others need/want from you?
3. Reaching Out. Are you owning and sharing your story? We can’t experience empathy if we’re not connecting.
4. Speaking Shame. Are you talking about how you feel and asking for what you need when you feel shame?
When you’re experiencing shame, it's import to feel empathy for yourself and from others. This is very important part of healing. Once I experienced shame in my workplace I remember feeling so alone and I hid my feelings. I called my partner up and he helped me through it. However, when I shared this with colleagues, they were not empathetic at all and treated me as though I was making it up in my head. Now that was horrible. When someone is experiencing a deep sense of shame, hold the space for them and acknowledge that what they’re feeling is real because it is.
What do you really want to do in life and feel you don’t have the emotional strength to pull it off? Shame keeps us from being vulnerable and alternatively, we choose comfort over our dreams.
Ask yourself what is this discomfort telling me?
If you have thoughts such as I am not good enough to.. Who do I think I am… I will look stupid.
These are thoughts that require attention. When it’s uncomfortable in a practical sense, such as you want to learn how to skate and you find it challenging. That is when you know it’s not shame it’s just uncomfortable because your body is not use to that activity and you know to move into the discomfort and trust.
What past experiences do you need to revisit and work through so you can make your dreams come true?
Who can you see that would help you through this process? Here are some suggestions: Psychologist, Psychiatrist, Therapist, Counselor and Somatic Therapy. You can also use alternative therapies and go down the energy healing path such as Timeline Therapy, Raiki, EFT, or Emotional Freedom Techniques, Meditation and Mindfulness Techniques, Hypnotherapy, Parts Work Therapy and Life Coaching. I am a strong believer of trying different modalities until you find the one that helps you and feels right for you.
Self-awareness will set you free! Do the work and amazing things will happen.
Daring Greatly. How The courage to be vulnerable transforms the way we live, love, parent and lead.