Charles Darwin studied shame a hundred years ago. He defined it as an unpleasant, self-conscious emotion that was typically associated with a negative evaluation of self. Darwin’s research showed that individuals who experienced shame also experienced regular feelings of distress, fear of exposure, were mistrustful, felt powerless and worthless in comparison to their peers. The fear of being shamed publicly was a powerful motivator to drive one to hide or deny their wrong-doings.
Brene Brown a modern day researcher, has picked up where Darwin left off and finds that we all carry shame. Brown has determined three things about shame. It is a universal concept, no one wants to talk about it and the less we talk about it, the more we have it. Did you know that there is a high correlation to addiction, eating disorders, violence, depression and suicide when we become self-judgmental, hide and keep quiet about our shame? If we continue to carry this emotion around, we essentially create the self-fulfilling prophecy that we are unworthy and unable to make strong, caring connections with others.
Jane remembers clearly the moments after her mother passed away. She was struck by how light she felt, almost like the heavy cape she had been wearing her entire life had suddenly fallen off. Jane believed that she started carrying the shame of being an illegitimate child around when she was in the womb. Her mother’s shame became her own. Only with her Mom’s passing did she begin to sluff off the remains of this unproductive emotion.
Men and women have the same feelings when they are dealing with shame. Both of us can become red-faced, our hearts will race, we will feel low and undeserving. The reasons we feel shame are not consistent across gender, however. Men feel shame typically about being perceived as weak. Whereas women feel shame when they they can’t do it all, can’t do it perfectly and when we let others see us sweat when we are struggling. Whatever the root cause, for both men and women these patterns create conflict when we want to engage in healthy relationships that require us to be compassionate and vulnerable.
Thankfully, and in large part because of the popularity of Brene Brown and some of her books: Living Strong, Women and Shame and Daring Greatly, we learn that shame doesn’t have to be a constant companion. We can shift that emotion right out of our repertoire. The antidote to shame is to learn how to apply liberal amounts of empathy; to ourselves, our children and families, our work-mates and to others in general. Jane’s feelings of empathy and compassion for her Mother’s situation and what that must have been like for her have helped her to heal and move forward in her life.
The ability to be vulnerable is, according to Brown, the birthplace of joy, love, gratitude, happiness, purpose and meaning. It gives us the courage to be imperfect. A wonderful by-product of imperfection is developing the compassion to be kind to ‘self’ first so that we can be kind to others. Finally, as we allow ourselves to fully embrace our authentic self and we will find that deep and meaningful connection to others that we all crave.
If you would like to chat about how best to shift shame right our of your life, and would like some support to achieve increased success to live a life of your own design, please call to book a 30 minute phone session with Simone Usselman-Tod, Dynamic Visioning Coach, Certified Life Coach & Business Coach and Certified NLP Master Practitioner. Don’t forget to ask me about about my new signature program! Learn more about Dynamic Visioning.