Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging. – Brené Brown
The S-word has been consistently on my mind lately, not because I’ve been researching it for a blog post, but because it’s in my life nearly every day and I’m not the only one. Shame is universal and every one of us experiences it (you know, unless you’re a sociopath…) Each of us has a story of some kind from any area of our lives. For me it’s imagining others must be looking down at me for having debt, that people think I’m a failure for never really taking a hold of my career and doing something “important” with my life. Those are my stories, the ones that keep returning. For you it could be a life trauma or something that didn’t quite work out at work or perhaps you had the courage to be vulnerable with someone and they shot you down.
What keeps these stories coming back? Shame spirals (as I like to call them) feed off our fear and lead us to believe that our truth will make others think less of us or won’t like us any more. Shame will crop up around pretty much anything it can, good or bad.
Your life is shit? Shame.
Your life is fantastic? Shame.
You can feel shame around losing your job or for making more money than the rest of your family. It’s nondiscriminatory! How very modern of it…
In reading Brené Brown’s book, The Gifts of Imperfection, I learned that shame and guilt are often confused. Shame is different to feeling guilty about something; shame, in essence, is the feeling that you are fundamentally bad as a person because of the thing and the more we stay silent about it the more it grows and the more destructive it can be. Talking about it helps, but as I found over the last year or two, it’s important to share your shame story with people who have proved to you that they can stand with you in your shame with zero judgment. You’ll know immediately if you picked the wrong person. Either you’ll feel relief or you’ll feel that creeping sense of shame. Choosing the right people to share with is a learning curve and often a steep one.
So, when you’re deep in a shame spiral and ideally prepare before you fall into one, here’s how you can help contain it:
- Identify your shame and acknowledge it for what it is.
- Know who you can reach out to.
- Share your story with them.
The act of sharing your story with the right person can stop a spiral in its tracks and gives you an opportunity to really dig into what’s going on with someone who’ll take you as you are, imperfections and all.