by Stephanie Chambers
What is shame?
Dr. Brené Brown defines shame as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection.”
It is different to guilt. With guilt we feel that we have done something bad – not that we ourselves are bad.
In some people, shame can lead to anger
Sometimes because we can’t handle the shame we are feeling, we translate that into anger. However, people who have developed a higher shame resilience learn not to feel as much shame or as much anger.
Sometimes people discharge their anger as blame
Dr. Brené Brown says that research has shown that because the person is triggered by shame, sometimes they find someone they can blame as a way of discharging the anger they feel.
Why is this a destructive cycle?
Blaming can be toxic to relationships. It builds up barriers. And it doesn’t provide what the person who has felt shame needs. They need to receive empathy, but they certainly won’t get that as they lash out and blame someone – often the person they should be confiding their real feelings to and receiving their support.
This can even happen over trivial things that happen to us. Brené gave the example of when she spilled coffee all over herself. She found a way to blame her husband for this even though he wasn’t even there.
Obviously deep down she was feeling ashamed of herself, but because she didn’t want to blame herself or to feel like a klutz, she rationalized that she could blame her husband because he kept her up the night before and that’s why she was having coffee.
How can we break this cycle?
By developing more awareness of what causes us to feel shame and even noticing our initial reactions to shaming situations, we stop the whole shame – blame cycle from arising. If you aren’t aware of your shame triggers, you may like to explore them with Dr. Scott Terry’s help during a couples retreat or in an individual session as part of your concierge service.
Another important part of developing shame resilience, is to become aware of your own “shame web” – the things that are trying to influence you to be or act a certain way and to not be your authentic self. For example, many of us are fooled into thinking we have to look a certain way because we are exposed to endless Photoshopped images of models in magazines. Or we are told by our sport coaches that we have to be tough no matter what we face.
You have to learn to be willing to reach out to the people you feel can give you the “empathy” not “sympathy” that you need to get over this shame. A counselor is a good safe person to start doing this with.
And also developing the ability to speak about when you’ve experienced shame and how you overcame it, can also help you become more shame resilient.
It isn’t necessarily you will develop all these skills in this order. They can come in any order as you start to work with your shame.