Mental Health

Shame Resilience: Why We Need It and How to Develop It

My summer reading including a book by one of my favorite authors, shame researcher Brene Brown titled “Daring Greatly.” It was one of those books that was so inspiring and helpful, I wanted to recommend it to everyone I know. What follows is a summary of the main concepts of this powerful book.

Shame. Every one of us has it and we rarely (if ever) dare to talk about it. We’re afraid (or terrified) to expose ourselves by sharing the places we feel most inadequate so we hide it, bury it. And in doing so, we increase the power that shame has over us.

What exactly is shame? At its core, shame is the fear of disconnection. The fear that somehow we are flawed in a way that makes us unworthy or not good enough to be loved, to belong, and to connect with those around us. There are twelve areas we experience shame: Appearance/Body Image, Money and work, Motherhood/Fatherhood, Family, Parenting, Mental and physical health, Addiction, Sex, Aging, Religion, Surviving Trauma, Being stereotyped or labeled.

While guilt is the feeling that “I have done something bad,” shame is the feeling that “I am bad.” Shame is painful. So painful that we attempt to avoid feeling it by engaging in self destructive behaviors that only compound the problem. Shame is highly correlated with addiction, aggression, depression, and eating disorders.

Shame is an inescapable part of human life but we can shape its effects on our lives by developing shame resilience. Shame resilience is a complex and robust set of skills that can be summarized as the process of: 1. Learning to recognize when you are feelings shame and to identify what triggered it; 2. Examining the messages and expectations fueling your shame and evaluating their truthfulness; 3. Reaching out to a trusted other; and 4. Taking the risk to talk about how you feel and ask for what you need.

Because the origin of our shame occurs in the context of relationships, developing resiliency also relies on experiencing empathy and support in our relationships. The antidote to shame is empathy. In fact, “If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can’t survive” (p. 75). Engaging in therapy with a trusted, competent therapist can really help in this area. If you are serious about developing your shame resilience, working with your therapist is the best place to start. Through the process of therapy, you will experience empathy and learn how to create more empathy in your current and future relationships with others.

Developing shame resilience is a process. It is the journey of moving from feeling unworthy to knowing that you are enough. Good enough, thin enough, smart enough, loveable enough. It is coming to learn that no matter what mistakes you make and no matter what others may think of you, you are loveable. I wish you the courage and fortitude to increase your own resistance to shame and to reap the rewards of more meaningful connections with others and more joy in your own life that come from the journey of developing shame resilience.