The other day my therapist asked me, “Do you know what shame is?”
Well of course I do, I thought, have I not read every one of Brene Brown's books? Have I not watched her TED talks and interviews on Oprah? “Yes” I answered, a little smugly “I've read Brene Brown”.
“OK” she replied, “What do you think the definition of shame is?”
I scrambled, my legally trained mind trying to fish out a perfect definition to source - “Ummmm” I stalled,“I’m not quite sure I can give a simple definition...it’s too complex.”
“Hmmm” she looked thoughtful, “let's come back to that then. What about how shame feels?”
My stomach drops… so we're going there are we?
OK - deep breath -
My eyes are downcast as there is a pressure on my forehead that won’t let me look up. I can feel a huge lump taking up the whole of my chest. I can’t swallow. I am paralysed. I find it difficult to speak. It’s all too much. The air suddenly feels dark and heavy. Anger starts to bubble to the surface…. Underneath the anger I feel… I can’t face anyone, and I can’t let anyone see me. I’m disgusting. I'm worthless. I’m nothing. I want to sink into the floor.
Here I am sitting in my therapist's office - I am 35 years old and I categorically understand that I am worthy, loved and courageous. And yet, when something happens to trigger shame this is where I am brought to.
And I'm not talking here about guilt - no, guilt is different.
The ever-wise Brene Brown states ‘I believe there is a profound difference between shame and guilt. I believe that guilt is adaptive and helpful - it's holding something we've done or failed to do up against our values and feeling psychological discomfort.’
In contrast ‘I define pain as the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging - something we've experienced, done or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection. I don't think shame is helpful or productive… I think the fear of disconnection can make us dangerous’.
And ‘shame needs three things to grow exponentially in our lives: secrecy, silence and judgement’.
From these words, come three simple steps to dealing with shame:
#1 Self Awareness - the first key step to dealing with shame, and really any aspect of ourselves that we feel is not serving us is awareness. We need to recognise our own shame in order to bring it to the forefront. Without this awareness, shame lurks within our dark depths - a master manipulator under the surface of our experience.
#2 Sharing - I know that shame cannot survive when it is shared with someone who responds with love and empathy. As Brene says ‘empathy is the antidote to shame’. But we must choose our confidants wisely- as we need only share with those who we know will hold us with compassion and treat us with respect. The last thing we want is to be shamed about our shame.
#3 Self Compassion – holding space for self-compassion enables us to accept our whole selves, and see the humanity in our experiences. Whatever we feel shame about is an indication that we are human, that we have deep emotions and react to our circumstances. This then assists us to let go of the intensity of the feeling, as we realise we are not alone.
Amanda is a (reformed) lawyer turned holistic life coach, self-care advocate, workshop facilitator, writer, speaker, avid reader, nature lover, chai tea drinker and mother to a curious, active toddler. A spirit seeker who loves connecting with others on journeys of self-discovery, Amanda believes we can all find our own version of success and live an empowered life.