Shame Resilience and Connection

We are biologically hardwired to feel a sense of belonging and connection with others. However, we all experience times where we feel disconnected, lonely, unworthy, or less than others. Sometimes, shame is the culprit of these feelings of disconnection.

Author and researcher Brené Brown defines shame as “an intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of acceptance and belonging.” The truth is, we all experience shame. In the clients that I work with and in myself, it often comes up as feeling “not __________ enough”. Fill in the blank with words like: good enough, sexy enough, smart enough, manly enough, feminine enough, physically fit enough, and so on. It often plagues us in all of our roles including as parents, partners, employees, and family members. It dresses up in words like “should” and is prevalent when we compare ourselves to others. Perhaps the scariest part of shame is that it “creates feelings of fear, blame and disconnection,” Brown says. And disconnection, of course, leads to more feelings of shame and a lack of belonging.

Some of the messages of shame we have come from the media, from our peers, our parents or family members, or from society. As humans, we will continue to experience the primitive emotion of shame because deep down, we fear disconnection and a lack of belonging. However, we can become more resilient to it by being aware of when it is happening to us and knowing ways to minimize its negative impact in our lives and on our relationships. Following are a list of suggestions from Brown’s research about shame resilience.

  1. Recognize shame and its triggers. Know where you feel it in your body. Recognize the areas where you experience the most shame.
  2. Practice critical awareness. Remember that we are not alone in our experience and that most everyone experiences shame and feelings of being not good enough. Recognize societal expectations and check within to see if you really want to adhere to those expectations. Ask yourself, “Who do I want to be?”
  3. Reach out. Be empathetic with others and remind them that they are not alone. Share your experiences when you didn’t feel like you had/were enough. Have compassion with yourself and others, and listen with empathy and validation. Remember that shame thrives in secrecy.
  4. Speak shame. Tell your story and share your shame with people that will be supportive and compassionate with you.

Click this link to learn more about the difference between empathy and sympathy. You can learn more about Dr. Brené Brown by visiting her website or you can see her two Ted Talks about The Power of Vulnerability and Listening to Shame.


May: Mental Health Month

Mental Health America observes May as Mental Health Month, a program dedicated to raising recognition about the importance of mental health to overall health and wellness. Their theme for 2014 is “Mind Your Health.” This May, consider making 2-3 goals to increase your mental health and wellness. Just by making a few small changes, you can experience improved relationships, better physical and mental health, and feel greater joy and happiness.

Stay socially connected

To feel more happy and decrease the effects of stress, depression, and anxiety, remember to make plans with friends, share your problems and joys with others, listen and reach out to those in need of support, and have fun in social settings.

Consider:

  • Setting up weekly lunch or dinner dates with friends or loved ones
  • Connect daily or weekly with people you care about over the phone or through email
  • Plan at least one fun activity that is social each week

Sleep

Getting enough quality sleep is crucial for your mental and physical well-being. It helps you learn, process memories, restore energy, repair muscle tissue, and regulate hormones. Not getting enough sleep can lead to both physical and mental/emotional struggles and conditions.

Consider:

  • Going to bed at the same time each day
  • Avoiding watching TV or using technology in the last 30 minutes before bed as it can wake your brain
  • Exercising earlier in the day if possible as it often has a waking effect on the body

Reduce and control your stress

Life is stressful. Too much stress (or lack of ability/knowledge to manage it) can negatively impact your body by creating somatic issues (headaches, stomachaches, etc), emotional struggles (irritability, anxiety, depression, panic attacks, etc), difficulty sleeping, rise in blood pressure, weight gain or loss, and more.

Consider:

  • Meditating (check out the Headspace app- 10 minutes/day for 10 days series)
  • Exercising
  • Prioritizing and doing one thing at a time
  • Engaging in leisure time and hobbies
  • Sharing your feelings/stress with loved ones
  • Journaling
  • Setting realistic goals and say “no” when necessary
  • Decreasing or eliminating use of substances to avoid/numb/manage stress. Instead, use one of the above suggestions or seek professional help to manage difficulty in your life.

For more information and resources on Mental Health Month, visit http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net.


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