Dealing With Shame
- Bring shame into the light.
Shame and vulnerability researcher and author Brené Brown, Ph.D., LMSW, describes shame as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.”
“The less we talk about shame, the more power it has over our lives,” Dr. Brown explains in her book Daring Greatly. “If we cultivate enough awareness about shame to name it and speak to it, we’ve basically cut it off at the knees.”
By acknowledging shame, we refuse to let it fester or define us. “When we bury the story, we forever stay the subject of the story,” Dr. Brown writes. “If we own the story, we get to narrate the ending.”
- Untangle what you are feeling.
Shame means “I am bad.” Guilt means “I did something bad.”
Being “bad” means you see yourself as incapable of changing or doing better. The remorse and regret that can come with guilt, on the other hand, can motivate us to make changes or follow a new path.
It’s also possible that “humiliation” or “embarrassment” is a more accurate label. Neither of those feelings is comfortable, but they don’t take aim at our self-worth in the way shame does. Humiliation can seem like shame, but it comes with the feeling that it was not deserved. If you are thinking, “I can’t believe my boss dressed me down in front of the entire staff for missing that deadline,” that’s humiliation. If you are thinking, “I can’t believe I missed that deadline. I’m such a loser,” that’s shame.
- Unhitch what you do from who you are.
If we define ourselves by what we do, we have put the power of our happiness in the hands of others.
Separating what we do from our sense of self-worth comes with an important benefit. When your whole identity isn’t on the line, you’ll find yourself freer to create, take risks and be innovative. Yes, you may be disappointed if the world doesn’t meet your efforts with applause, but it won’t be soul-crushing in the way that shame can be. Instead, you can look at both praise and condemnation with the perspective they deserve, absorb any helpful critiques, and move on.
- Recognize your triggers.
One of shame’s sneakiest tricks is its ability to hit us where we are most vulnerable.
In short, our insecurities prime us to default to shame. By being aware of what our shame triggers are, we can help nip this process in the bud. Feel shame settling over you? Try to identify the feeling behind it before it can amplify.
Research has shown that there a variety of “shame categories.” The primary shame trigger for women still remains physical appearance. For men, it’s the fear of being perceived as weak.
Rather than give in to these triggers, seek to ban them from your life. Embrace who you are rather than struggling to fulfill an outside notion of who you should be. Your vulnerabilities will recede and, with it, shame’s power over you.
- Make connections.
Researcher Jessica Van Vliet found this to be a key step in overcoming shame. In a paper published in the journal Psychology and Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, and Practice, she wrote: “People start to realize that it’s not just them. Other people do things that are as bad or even worse sometimes, so they’re not the worst person on the planet. They start to say to themselves, ‘This is human; I am human; others are human.’”
That sense of connection also boosts our compassion for ourselves, meaning we are more likely to handle our shame without resorting to measures such as lashing out at those around us, or giving in to shame’s message that we are indeed bad.
Being connected also means we can be there for others when the need arises. Simply expressing, “I know how you feel” can work miracles for those in shame’s painful hold.
Based on article in Psychology Today, Posted January 13, 2015