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Shame is one of those messy, tricky emotions. It’s so tricky, at times we don’t even know it’s controlling us. Other times, we feel like we are spiraling down a shame hole, completely helpless to its grip. 

Sometimes, shame feels like shame - believing we don’t deserve something such as love, happiness, acceptance, relationships, a certain career, kindness - because we aren’t good enough or because of who we are including our gender, class, race, sexual orientation. 

Other times shame can look like perfectionism or people pleasing, aggression or anger. It can feel like self-hatred and fear. 

Shame is a fear of disconnection; fear that if people knew what we know about ourselves, they would never talk to us again. It can make us withdraw, isolate, hide. 

It’s not surprising then, that there is a high correlation between shame and depression, violence, eating disorders, suicide, addiction, and high risk behaviours.

I wish I could tell you there is a way to avoid feeling shame but there is no such thing. Shame is an emotion that we ALL feel. However, we can build shame resilience skills. 

Shame resilience skills  help us stay connected to ourselves and others in the face of shame. In Daring Greatly, Brené Brown identifies 4 elements of shame resilience:

  1. Recognizing shame and understanding what triggers YOUR shame - what are your physical symptoms when shame shows up?

  2. Practicing critical awareness - reality checking the messages and expectations that fuel shame. This can be complicated and eye-opening

  3. Reaching out - Empathy is the antidote to shame, do you have someone to speak to?

  4. Speaking Shame - cultivating courage to be vulnerable and ask for what you need

Embedded through shame resilience skills are elements of self-compassion (see this previous blog post to learn more about self compassion). Self-compassion is extremely helpful in moving through shame because it addresses the secrecy, the silence, and the judgment of shame. Self-compassion it is the exact opposite of shame. We don’t criticize and judge the people we love when they are struggling because it’s hurtful, yet we do it to ourselves all the time. Self-compassion lights up the parts of our brain that can heal our hurt and move us forward. 

In addition to self-compassion, we can also reflect on whether we are in the throes of shame or guilt. Although guilt and shame can feel the same, the self-talk is different. Shame is a focus on the self being “bad/wrong/etc”, and guilt is a focus on our behaviour being “bad/wrong/etc”. Using guilt self-talk, not shame self-talk will motivate us to make changes that align with our values and how we want to be in this world. 

Shame keeps us small but shame resilience can help us show up and live the life we yearn for and deserve.

Melissa Pickett is a registered social worker and certified Daring Way facilitator. She’s facilitating our upcoming second annual Cultivating Holiday Resilience Group based on Brené Brown’s research.