In this week’s Sounds True Self Acceptance Project, Brene Brown speaks about the process of building shame resilience. I highly recommend listening to this talk. For those of you who won’t get the opportunity, I will summarize the main points.
Brene has been researching shame, courage, authenticity and vulnerability for many, many years and has given an excellent talk on Ted that is also worth watching. In this talk she starts off by stating her belief that the obstacles to self acceptance are feelings of lack of worthiness of love and belonging. The root of this is shame. Shame is a feeling which she describes as universal, part of our basic need for love and belonging which is hardwired into us. So shame is part of the human experience and unless we have psychopathic tendencies, it is unavoidable. Therefore she recommends that instead of trying to set unrealistic goals like trying to avoid the unavoidable, we should rather focus on building resilience to shame.
- The first thing Brene recommends is recognizing the physiology of your shame experience so that you can recognize when you are feeling shame. For most people, the feeling corresponds to the stress response as shame feels traumatic. So you may notice a sinking sensation in your stomach, rapid heart rate, sweaty palms, and specifically to shame, the urge to hide away, such as avoiding eye contact.We also need to identify what triggered the feeling. In some cases this may be obvious whereas others it may be more subtle, and may even be a thought we have.
- She then suggests we reach out and share our shame experience with a trusted person. Shame thrives on secrecy and silence and so sharing with someone who we can count on for non judgmental support is an antidote to this. This can also give us a reality check.
- We then need to move from shame to guilt. Brene distinguishes shame from guilt by what it makes us focus on. In shame we focus on ourselves and may say things like “I’m so stupid”, whereas in guilt the focus is on the behaviour, “that was a silly thing to do”. They both lead to different actions, guilt drives us to repair whereas shame makes us want to avoid the feeling. Brene describes three strategies we can use to avoid the feeling. Firstly we can hide and isolate, secondly we can people please and lastly we can fight shame with shame. This strategy is the most harmful to relationships as usually occurs with people we love, where we feel safe, so end up shaming them or using rage to avoid feeling the shame ourselves.
- The final stage is around becoming more aware of the way we speak to ourselves and practice responding to shame inducing experiences in the same we we would speak to a loved one. While this may sound silly at first, Brene insists that over time this response becomes more of the default position, which in time builds resilience against stress.
So give this a try if you want to shift your experience of shame!