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.
- Recognize shame and its triggers. Know where you feel it in your body. Recognize the areas where you experience the most shame.
- 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?”
- 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.
- 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.