For the last few years, I have talked a lot about Brené Brown. I mean A LOT.
I’m definitely not alone, however. Her simple and direct formula for facing uncomfortable emotions and living an authentic, courageous life have become ubiquitous in self-help and therapy. For example, while getting my tattoo worked on, I asked my tattooist, “do you know Brené Brown?” Without skipping a beat, he said, “is that the lady who talked about vulnerability on a Ted Talk?” To be fair, he’s pretty much a therapist but the point is: Brené has become a household name.
Since I talk about her so much, I decided to go to Houston to receive formal training in order to facilitate cutting edge therapy groups based on her research. I was extremely excited to be able to apply the things I’ve learned from reading Brene’s work! I was also very nervous because I knew this training would be informative and experiential - meaning I would be encouraged to feel my own uncomfortable emotions and my first response is always to avoid them.
It may seem surprising that a therapist avoids her own emotions. I hear there is a myth that therapists are great at feeling uncomfortable emotions and know how to handle all their challenges in a healthy way... but I can assure you that therapists are people and most people try to avoid painful feelings.
Through years of my own personal work, I can now say I “dislike” feeling difficult emotions but have found ways to avoid less and feel a little more. After all, I’m trying to live an authentic, courageous, wholehearted life and feeling difficult emotions is part of it.
Which was also part of the reason I wanted to do the Brené Brown training. My motto has always been:
“If I’m going to ask other people/clients to do something, I better be willing to do it myself and have a sense of what it feels like”.
So, I packed my bags and headed to Houston full of excitement and hope. It wasn’t until I was in a room with 40 other people that fear hit me: not only will I have to feel difficult emotions, but in order to push myself to be courageous and authentic, I’d have to share these emotions with the group. Even though I was in a room full of compassionate, caring people, the pit of nervousness in my stomach remained.
Fearing judgement from others had nothing to do with the other people in the room, it was my own shame coming up. Shame is the pit-in-your-stomach, gross feeling of not being good enough for love and belonging. I did some grounding, checked my inner critic (who has a lot to say, I might add), and dug in.
We started with an activity to identify our most important values and wrote them on our name tags (I chose authenticity, joy, and freedom). I pushed myself to share my uncomfortable feelings with the group, despite fear and shame bubbling up. Staying silent and worrying about people not accepting me would not result in me being authentic, or having joy or freedom.
The training was going pretty well at that point. Then we paired up to do an activity discussing our response to others when they share their shame.
One of the ways we respond to shame, is with shame. I was a little high on my horse and declared to my partner that “I have worked really hard to not respond to shame with shame”.
Finally, it was my partner’s turn to share her shame story, and how did I respond?
You guessed it. I indirectly shamed her. I offered her some combination of a shame/pity response.
About 1.5 seconds after I did it, I realized it. My face felt hot, my stomach started clenching and I was so distracted by my racing thoughts of how to escape that I couldn’t listen to her story (even as I write this, the guilt feelings start to show up in my body).
As a perpetual difficult-feelings-avoider, I thought, “I can pretend like this didn’t happen, I’m never going to see this person again”.
Then I looked down and staring me straight in the face was my value...AUTHENTICITY. Daring me: what’s it going to be, Melissa?
So I went against all my well-honed avoidance skills and later approached my partner to acknowledge what I had done. She was very sweet about it and didn’t seem as bothered as I was by the situation. However, I felt immensely better.
Remember how I said I felt guilt sensations arise while I was explaining what happened? Initially it was shame I had experienced - I felt sick to my stomach and like I was a terrible therapist, a terrible person. But, because I was able to circle back and talk to my partner, I no longer felt suffocated by shame.
I felt guilty, which is ok because I can learn from guilt. If I hadn’t gone back to speak to this person and challenge myself to be authentic, I probably wouldn’t be sharing this story as I’d still be stuck in shame.
I learned so much in the Brené Brown training; too much to fit in this blog article. Here are some highlights:
- Being scared and speaking about my shame with supportive people won’t kill me. I can remind myself of this the next time shame tries to keep me quiet or tries to prevent me from being authentic
- Being in a group of supportive people is super healing.
- Vulnerability is still very uncomfortable but worthwhile things in life often are.
- Lastly, I realized what Dr. Brené Brown talks about in her work is simply human. We have all had these experiences of shame, fear, sadness, grief, joy, anger....vulnerability...and courage. I have taken countless post-graduate trainings in my career but what I like about Dr. Brown’s work is that it isn’t pathologizing. Her work isn’t filled with jargon that only mental health professionals can understand, it’s accessible and applicable to everyone.
My favourite part of my job is the unbelievable privilege of connecting with other human beings and I often recognize the common humanity in all of us. I truly believe we heal in relationships, which is one reason why group therapy can be so transformative.
I am looking forward to offering the Daring Greatly and Rising Strong groups to our community, and hope you are interested in learning how to work through shame and embrace vulnerability and courage.
“ When we deny our stories, they define us. When we own our stories, we get to write the ending” - Brené Brown