How Not to be Derailed By Shame (Part 1)

"You cannot shame or belittle people into changing their behaviors."  This is the sentence that Brene Brown  has built her career around.  Brene is a shame and vulnerability researcher whose teachings have had a profound influence on my life.

Being vulnerable and being being fully known by at least a few people during our lifetime is difficult.  There's a lot of risk involved with it and for some reason it seems weak.  Brene has found in her research that most people see it as a weakness within themselves but a strength when witnessing others being vulnerable and sharing their true selves.  

The biggest obstacle to being vulnerable and authentic is the feeling of being ashamed of who we see ourselves to be.  We long for connection to others but are overwhelmed by the fear of being perceived as flawed and unworthy of acceptance or belonging.  

Brown says in her book, I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn't) "Like the growing epidemic of violence for many, shame has strangely become both a form of self-protection and a popular source of entertainment.  Name calling and character assassinations have replace national discussions about religion, politics and culture.  We use shame as a tool to parent, teach and discipline our children.  Television show promising cutthroat alliances, backstabbing, hostile confrontations, exclusion and public humiliation consistently grab the top ratings.  And at the same time we use shame to defend and entertain ourselves, we struggle to understand why the world feels so scary, why politics have turned into blood sport, why children are suffering higher levels of stress and anxiety, why popular culture appears to be sinking to all-time lows and why a growing number of us feel alone and disconnected."

As a number of researchers are starting to look at the issue of shame, they are discovering a role it plays in depression, anxiety disorders, addiction, eating disorders, bullying, suicide, sexual assault and all types of violence.  

So what exactly is shame and how do we recognize it?  Shame is not self esteem or feelings of guilt.  Self esteem is how we see ourselves,our strengths and limitations,over a long period of time.  When we feel shame, we don't look at our strengths and limitations, we simply feel alone, exposed and deeply flawed. Guilt comes along with feeling bad with what you have done. Shame comes when you feel bad about who you are.

Recognizing shame can be difficult because most of us are not conscious of what we are feeling or why. Shaming messages can come from outside sources but one of the biggest voices in communicating shame is our own.

The most common shame categories are appearance and body image, motherhood, family, parenting, money and work, mental and physical health, sex, aging, religion, being stereotyped and labeled, speaking out and surviving trauma.

Shame effects all of us at one time or another and we all have our category that is most tender to us.  The most encompassing source of shame for women is body image, which Brown found affected 90% of the women she interviewed.  Just saying the words "swim suit shopping" bring most of us women into a dark place and oddly enough can drive us straight into a half gallon of ice cream!

What I appreciate about Brene's book is that she doesn't say that there are magical steps to fixing the problem with shame because all of us deal with it and always will.  She does however explain what people who are most resilient to the adverse affects of shame do in order to manage it.  this then provides the necessary courage they need for vulnerability and connection.

Learning these management tools have been life changing for me since I have let shame rule me most of my life.  I have been overwhelmed and exhausted the cycle of either pulling myself out of, or going back into the darkness that comes with feeling cloaked with worthlessness and incompetence.

I will be sharing from Brene's book in the next few blog posts and I hope that the teachings will provide as much help for you as it has for me.  Her research has been compiled in a secular arena but I have found her findings to support what I read in scripture.  I love it when scientific and psychological research support the truths of God's Word.

 We who come from a biblical perspective on life know the true source of shame and that Jesus came to end the hold that it can have on us.  Most of the time we make satan's job pretty easy and we give into his tactics more than we need to.  Having some tools can help us to not let ourselves be derailed by shame as well as not in to using it as a tool to produce the changes we want to see in other people.

Until next time--Blessings!

Here are the links to some of the videos I would recommend if you find this interesting

        Brene Brown: The Power of Vulnerablitly

        Brene Brown:  Listening to Shame