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Overcoming Shame

If you were asked right now, “What is shame?”, you might have trouble giving a clear definition of it. There’s a powerful reason for that. Shame thrives in the darkness. Shame doesn’t want to be seen, or looked at, let alone discussed in a setting aimed at processing it.

Dissecting the Nature of Shame

person in shame

Shame is an uncomfortable, tumultuous, and grueling topic. It doesn’t benefit us to sugar coat it. Merely saying the word “shame” tends to elicit an emotional and physiological response in those that hear it. The word alone can cause you to feel it. This probably occurs because it puts you in direct contact with an experience—past or present, healed or unhealed, that triggers the response. It’s an emotion that is grouped into the “negative" category. Not bad, not good, just negative in the way that it makes us feel in our mind and body. We know that even the most discomforting emotions we experience provide us with utility. Emotions are offerings for us. They are prompts to act and navigate our world.

That’s exactly why this topic is so important. If it’s a universal emotion (which it is), if we all are going to feel it at points in our life (which we will), we need a way to deal with it effectively so it doesn’t keep us stuck, which is exactly what it would do if it had it’s way.

Through the past few paragraphs, maybe, just maybe, you’ve given more thought to what the definition of shame is, or what your definition of shame is. Through thousands of interviews, responses, and answers to questions, which surely included, “what is shame?”, Dr. Brené Brown was able to form a definition built from all the input she received.

“Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.”

That’s what we’re up against, folks. That’s the battle that’s going on in within someone when they’re at their lowest, clawing and fighting to find a way out or withering away in it's heedless grasp. 

Brené Brown's Contributions to Understanding Shame

If you’re someone who has explored the world of mental health, whether by choice or by requirement, then odds are you’ve heard the name Brené Brown. If you haven’t, you’re in for a treat. Dr. Brené Brown is a professor, author, and a clinical social worker who has done some groundbreaking work on shame and vulnerability.  The two areas of focus that she dedicated years to researching, shame and vulnerability, are critical factors that affect a person’s ability to seek life-saving help when battling against stigmas involving mental health and/or addiction.

Dr. Brené Brown has made profound contributions to the understanding of shame and vulnerability through her research. Her work articulates how shame can create a deep sense of unworthiness and inadequacy in individuals, which in turn can prevent them from connecting authentically with others.

Through her popular TED Talks and best-selling books such as "The Gifts of Imperfection," "Daring Greatly," and "Rising Strong," Brown explores the paradox of how vulnerability, the core of all emotions and feelings, is both the source of difficult emotions like shame and fear, but also the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, empathy, innovation, and creativity. She advocates for a 'wholehearted' approach to living, encouraging people to embrace vulnerability and imperfection, to live courageously, and to engage in their lives from a place of worthiness. Dr. Brown’s work provides not only a deeper insight into the human emotional experience but also practical guidance for those seeking to overcome shame and to live more fully.

What Brené found through her research was that there were common experiences, responses, and general understandings of shame. She also found that some people naturally engaged in certain processes that helped them get through it. In other words, these people were able to bounce back from shame-inducing experiences or triggers; they were organically SHAME RESILIENT!

Embracing Shame Resilience

person embracing shame

Shame Resilience is what she named the theory that encompasses this healing process. For anyone struggling with shame and beginning to realize how much it may be affecting you and your life, shame resilience is here to help. It works! Some would say that discovering a method to accomplish shame resistance would be preferable. Unfortunately, we cannot and will never be immune to shame. As long as we have the capacity for human emotion, connection, and love, we will also experience the fear of disconnection and aloneness.

Shame resilience can be understood as the ability to recognize when we're experiencing shame and move through it in a constructive way that leads to growth and increased self-compassion. Resilient individuals don't see shame as a statement about their core identity, but rather as an opportunity for introspection and learning. They also reach out for support when needed, understanding that sharing their stories can diminish the power of shame and gain a sense of shared humanity and connection.

As previously covered, the topic of shame often receives strong pushback. It can be like trying to touch the ‘like’ poles of two magnets—they repel each other. Therefore, Shame Resilience theory needed a delivery system, a way to bypass some of that resistance. A gentle yet honest, structured yet personal, step-by-step approach to get and keep people on board. This is how the 'The Connection Curriculum' was developed. It’s a 12-class course that starts from the ground up and leaves no stone unturned. A stone unturned is an opportunity missed. The shame found under each rock is taken from you whether you acknowledge it or not. It’s important to note that while we do get dirty, down in the muck doing this work, follow-through is essential, especially with the connection components, to come out the other side clean. 

Find out more on how to access the Connections Curriculum here:

How Human Connection Combats Shame

humans connecting around warm fire

Our current definition of shame paints a dire picture where the person involved is alone (disconnected), suffering in actual pain. It’s been shown through brain scan technology that shame is experienced in the same part of the brain that physical pain is. In this dark place there is also no hope for relief. Remember, in shame we believe our flawed nature and unworthiness to be true. Belief is acceptance of recognized truth. This is what isolates us. We believe that we cannot let those around see this part of us that is ugly, so unworthy, so we hide, or it hides us. For if others saw it, they would surely disconnect from us. It’s a warped dialogue that fulfills aloneness. 

Now! If this is the picture we have of being ‘in shame’, there is indeed a contrasting image of when we manage to make our way out. But how do we do so?

Human connection can improve mood, strengthen the immune system, and assist in recovering from disease or illness quicker. It very well could lengthen one's lifespan. There are studies being done on social isolation (loneliness) and it’s association with significant increases in all-cause mortality. All that being true, why wouldn’t connection be the magic bullet for our shame epidemic?

This human connection we speak of, it requires some important ingredients. Empathy, vulnerability, compassion—all three must be practiced and performed in the pursuit of shame resilience, (and in any quality relationship). So, here’s your excuse to move these on to your daily to-do lists. 

The Role of Empathy, Vulnerability, and Connection in Healing Shame

Empathy, vulnerability, and compassion are not just emotional luxuries but foundational elements in the quest for shame resilience. By courageously sharing our own stories and welcoming the authentic stories of others, we create a mutually supportive community. It's within this space of shared experiences and collective vulnerability that shame loses its crippling power, and we find the empathetic connections that promote healing and growth. These practices aren't just one-off events; they're essential, ongoing exercises in the art of being human and integral to forging the weapon against shame.

While shame may feel like a heavy burden, it can be transformed into an opportunity for growth and connection through the development of shame resilience. By embracing our vulnerability and connecting with others, we can combat the isolating effects of shame and find true belonging and worthiness. As Brené Brown's work shows us, the path to wholehearted living starts with embracing our imperfections and daring greatly. So let's continue to strive for shame resilience, one step at a time.

(Note: This is not a full discussion of Dr. Brené Brown’s work on shame resilience, but rather an introduction and general overview. To learn more, it's highly recommended to read her books and watch her TED talks.)

  • Brown, B. (2012). Daring greatly: How the courage to be vulnerable transforms the way we live, love, parent, and lead. New York: Gotham Books.

  • Brown, B. (2007). I thought it was just me (but it isn't): Making the journey from "What will people think?" to "I am enough". New York: Gotham Books.

  • Brown, B. (2010). The gifts of imperfection: Let go of who you think you're supposed to be and embrace who you are. Center City, Minn.: Hazelden.

  • Brown, B. (2013). The power of vulnerability. TEDTalks.

  • Brown, B. (2012). Listening to shame. TEDTalks.

  • Neff, K. (2003). Self-compassion: An alternative conceptualization of a healthy attitude toward oneself. Self and Identity, 2(2), 85-101.

  • Germer, C.K., & Neff, K.D. (2015). Mindful self-compassion in psychotherapy: A case illustration. In C. Germer & R.D. Siegel (Eds.), Wisdom and Compassion in Psychotherapy: Deepening Mindfulness in Clinical Practice (pp. 190-204). New York: The Guilford Press.

  • Siegel, D.J., & Germer, C.K. (2012). Psychotherapy and the cultivation of mindfulness. In K.W. Brown, J.D. Creswell & R.M. Ryan (Eds.), Handbook of Mindfulness: Theory, Research and Practice (pp. 630-645). New York: The Guilford Press.

  • Gilbert, P., Catarino, F., Duarte, C., Matos, M., Kolts, R., Stubbs, J.,...Bastos, A. (2017). The development of compassionate engagement and action scales for self and others. Journal of Compassionate Health Care, 4(1), 4.

  • Gilbert, P., & Procter, S. (2006). Compassionate mind training for people with high shame and self-criticism: Overview and pilot study of a group therapy approach. Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy, 13(6), 353-379.

  • Gilbert, P., McEwan, K., Matos, M., & Rivis, A. (2011). Fears of compassion and happiness in relation to alexithymia, mindfulness, and self-criticism. Psychological Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice, 84(3), 239-255.

  • Gilbert, P., McEwan, K., Matos, M., & Rivis, A. (2014). I'm OK: The development of a compassion-focused therapy program for emotional distress in people with dementia. Aging and Mental Health, 18(7), 914-922.

In addition to the above mentioned references, there are many other valuable resources available for those interested in further exploring shame resilience and cultivating human connection. From online courses to therapy techniques, there are various tools and practices that can aid in this journey. It's important to note that while these resources can be helpful, building shame resilience ultimately requires self-reflection and vulnerability.

The shame resilience method is crucial in overcoming shame as it empowers individuals to recognize, process, and ultimately transcend the debilitating effects of shame through self-awareness and constructive coping strategies. Chateau Health & Wellness is a treatment program that assists clients in overcoming shame with shame resilience. To learn more, call (435) 222-5225 today.

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