What Shame can teach us

A mother and daughter are in a department store, and the child reaches for something on the shelf, only to have her hand slapped by her mother telling her it’s wrong to grab things that don’t belong to her.  The child’s face turns red, she looks down and withdraws her hand.

We’ve all seen it, even possibly experienced it as children, and then as adults. We might have done it ourselves, worried that something we don’t own might get soiled or broken.

No one wants to talk about shame. We either deny it’s happening, or hide that it’s happening.

Brene Brown defines shame as the intensely painful feeling that we are unworthy of love and belonging.

It can happen in an instant or accumulate over a lifetime.  Shame isn’t about any given act or event, it’s about the self-judgment we heap on ourselves for being a bad person that leaves its lasting mark.

Shame is deadly. It needs three things to gain power in our lives – secrecy, silence and judgment. If we don’t talk about it, hide it, and continue to judge ourselves, it will grow. Just like that child, when we feel shame, we tend to withdraw. We feel that others will judge us as we are judging ourselves, and we’d rather they didn’t know. As a result, we end up isolating ourselves – and intensifying the pain of shame.

The way out of shame is to expose it – not harshly, but with empathy. It can’t survive being exposed.

For example, if something really shaming happens to me, and I call my closest friend and tell her about it, my friend will very likely be empathetic.  And when she is, the shame disappears. I don’t feel alone or isolated any longer, and the painful feeling of shame I had coming into the conversation has simply disappeared.

There are three things you can do to deal with shame:

  1. Know what triggers shame for you. For me, it’s feeling incompetent;
  2. Do a reality check on the shame, speaking to yourself as if you we talking to someone you love. If I were addressing a child who felt incompetent, I might say “Sometimes we need to learn about how not to do things before we can learn how to do them well”;
  3. Reach out and share your story with someone you trust. Expose the shame to the real light of day and watch it disappear.

Shame turns into a shared understanding of the human condition when we share it; it becomes a basis for connecting with and loving our fellows.

Shame – Brene Brown on Oprah


Quote of the Week
Unlike guilt, which is the feeling of doing something wrong, shame is the feeling of being something wrong. –Marilyn Sorensen

At times we need more  – we know the logic, know what to do. And yet something is still blocking us.  As a registered psychotherapist and stress coach, I offer individual one-on-one consultations. For more information, visit my websitewww.thejoyofliving.co/programs or contact me directly atmaryanne@thejoyofliving.co

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