Updated: Aug 24, 2019
It is really interesting how once you start looking through certain glasses to the world you see it showing up everywhere. That is what I am now experiencing with shame.
Yesterday a friend posted a video on Facebook about the new London mayor Sadiq Khan banning a body shaming advertisement because it demeans people and especially women. On Tv I saw commercials for weight loss products and in 'say yes to the dress' a mother called her daughter’s bum too big to fit into any dress in front of the whole store.
Did I really not notice all of these shaming messages before I started to do my own shame work? I think I actually did see and hear them before but instead of noticing shaming mechanisms and messages I would be triggered into my own shame. Sounds confusing and complicated? Let me clarify.
What is shame?
Shame is according to the research of Dr. Brené Brown the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that I am flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.
Shame is something people either do not want to talk about and/or pretend to not have.
The bad news:
We all have shame! It is our most primitive human emotion
The less we talk about it, the more we have it. Shame hates having words wrapped around it and grows exponentially with secrecy, silence and (self-) judgment
Shaming someone does not trigger change because it puts the focus on the way of being of the person instead of on (changeable) behavior.
The good news:
we can develop shame resilience as a way to deal constructively with shame.
Shame cannot stand empathy and connection
All the information provided here comes from The Daring Way TM curriculum based on the research of Dr. Brené Brown. If you want to know more there will be references at the end of this post for you to check out!
How do you develop your shame resilience?
By doing your shame work. Does reading that sentence make you go ‘oh man, that is the last thing I want to be doing any time soon’? I get it! Been there, thought that! Even to a degree I wanted to drop out of taking The Daring Way TM training because I was so scared of having to do the work.
Luckily I didn’t drop out and I did do all my shame work in the weeks before Christmas last year.
Doing my shame work means that I looked at what shame means to me, how and when it shows up in my life and where it comes from. A lot of our shame messages and tapes are based on messages from the people around us and the media. My parents like many parents of their generation believed that shaming their children would make them change for the better. I never thought I would be having conversations with my mam about the impact that belief had on me or that I would be able to be with the shaming patterns of my dad without being sucked into it. And I did both of those over the Christmas holidays!
That is the empowering effect of doing your shame work: once you know how you do shame, you prevent shame from doing you. Meaning that because I now know exactly which messages trigger my shame in a certain area, the impact of the actual message is a lot less in a sense that I notice I am triggered but go less into the actual shame response. And if I do go into shame, I know what I need to do to get out of it.
To give an example I wrote about in a previous blog post. Body image has always been a huge shame trigger for me and one I really did not want to talk about. Everyone who has met or knows me knows I am fat. I know I am fat. It is a very clear reality and there is just no way of denying it. Before I did my shame work, Adele’s remark about her bum would have sent me straight into my big body shame. As a reaction I would have either tried to hide somewhere in a dark corner so my bum would not be in anyone’s way or I would have said it is really awesome she talks about it so freely and honestly but not mean a single word of it. Both ways are shields to not feel or have to deal with my own shame but neither of these responses would have taken me out of the actual shame experience.
The constructive ways to deal with shame are:
to understand your shame: what are the messages that trigger it and what are the physical symptoms because shame triggers a very clear physical response.
walk through it with courage (reality check the messages and expectations), compassion for yourself and connection (sharing your shame story with someone you trust and get empathy from)
That is what happened for me now at the concert. The minute Adele started talking about her bum I knew my body shame trigger was pushed but instead of going into the actual shame experience I was clear on the fact that I also have a big bum and that I, like Adele, can now say that openly because having a big bum is only a small part of who I am. The way that I move through a life that fulfills me with that bum is far more important than paying attention to the 7000 messages a day that say that bum needs to disappear. And before you throw in the ‘health’ argument, let me stop you right there because unless you are my doctor we are not going to have that conversation. Clear boundary right here!
Another very important part of dealing with shaming messages for me is to be very clear on who I want feedback from. On the health issue I only want input from my doctor. Anyone else using that argument as a way of judging me is not invited to that conversation.
When I write that I realise how incredibly empowering having clear boundaries is because being clear on who you are willing to hear certain truths and messages from gives you/me permission to say to everyone else trying to deliver shaming messages: thank you but no thank you!
One of the things shame does is keeping us small and hiding out in our own life. How often do you not say to yourself: ‘I will start working on my big dream when I have lost the weight, gotten the degree, earned the money, bought the bigger house… ’? In reality that day might never come and as a result you will have given up on your dream without having started it. That is how big the impact of shame is! Shame tapes and messages are a dream killer!
So let this be your wake up call and your invitation to not let your shame do that to you! Do your shame work instead! Easy and fun? NO! Worth it? YES!
Do you want to start your own shame work? Here are some resources!
The Daring Way TM method is based on the research of Brené Brown, Ph.D. LMSW. Dr. Brené Brown is a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work. She has spent the past twelve years studying vulnerability, courage, worthiness, and shame.
Further information is available here.
You could also book a free discovery session with me here.