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The Work of Shame

Much of my work revolves around shame, both my personal work and my work with clients.  Many people use the term guilt–‘I feel guilty all the time’ when in actuality they feel shame.  According to Brene Brown, a leading research on shame, there is a big difference between shame and guilt.  Shame means “I am bad” where as guilt means “I did something bad”.  Doing something bad is a lot easier to change and grow from than just innately being bad.

So for example, you pick up the kids late because you got stuck in traffic and rather than saying to yourself I messed up and apologizing to your kids; you end up in a downward shame spiral telling yourself what a terrible parent you are because you picked your kids up late.  And by the time you are done you are telling yourself that your kids are going to be permanently damaged because of you, you are a terrible driver and you are just an awful human being all together–all just because you picked the kids up late.

There are a number of people who have shame as the primary emotion in life.  The littlest thing can go wrong and they are washed over with shame, telling themselves what a terrible person they are and how they are innately evil and unworthy. The scary part is that this shame is normalized in our society.  We shame ourselves, we shame other people, we shame our kids. Anytime we send the message you are a bad person not you did something bad we are sending shame.  Feeling shame is something that isolates us and disconnects us from ourselves and other people.  When we are on a shame cycle we are feeling small and insignificant.

The number one way to diminish shame in your life is to recognize when it shows up for you and how it feels. Then pay attention to your shame triggers. Finally, speak your shame out loud to other people who can safely handle it.

What are activities/people who are especially good at shaming me?

What do I do when I feel shame?  Where do I feel it in my body?

Who are safe people that you I share with when I am feeling shame?

As you start noticing and unplugging from your shame, your life will change for the better.  Healing shame is work, and oh so worth it!!

Want to learn more about shame?  Check out this video from Brene Brown on Shame.

Defining Shame from Brené Brown on Vimeo.

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