30 Days of Brené Brown — Day 12: #shame #change #potential


This is a new spin on an old topic.

Welcome to Day 12 of 30 Days of Brené Brown.

Today’s quote:

Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change.
― Brené Brown

I dig it. This I can get into.

I was going to throat punch someone if I had to write about courage or vulnerability again.


Shame and corrosion.

I have to back up a bit to get us all on the same page. I think that most people have a good sense of what “courage” and “vulnerability” mean. “Shame” is harder for me; it’s like a distant cousin to embarrassment, but stays on much longer. Embarrassment is easy to recover from and ephemeral. What some people do though, is use “embarrassment” when they really mean “shame” which is to me, the mother of all super-deep regrets and emotions. Shame, is like a scourge on our souls.

My jury is still out on whether shame is cast upon us by someone or something else or if its an internal reaction or mechanism to something outside us. Embarrassment to me, is an internal reaction.  I feel as though shame is foisted upon us, as if we need any help to feel bad about ourselves, we have Aunt Mabel reminding us that we should’ve waited our turn … I feel like shame we “learn” from outside influences. It’s judge-y.

When we’re embarrassed, we blush. When we feel shame, we curl up and feel miserable humiliation. It’s much deeper. I think kids these days have the two confused.

Brown defines shame as: “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.” That’s a long-term sensation that becomes a part of our cellular make-up.

shame. (c) warner bros. (i love belushi)

shame. (c) warner bros. (i love belushi)

Nixon: shame.

Benedict Arnold: shame.

Mel Gibson: shame.

Janet Jackson and the wardrobe malfunction: embarrassment.

Paul Rudd for his performance on Saturday Night Live last weekend: embarrassment.

My cat not coming home for a week: just weird.

I digress.

Shame. Everyone has been there and the way that Brown defines it, ‘believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy’ — you can stop right there: it’s enough. It doesn’t matter what comes up next.

I have written of myself that I am flawed. I can’t remember the post, but someone took me to task and she really drove into me that being flawed is NOT a … flaw. It’s the myth of perfection which engenders the concepts of flaw and flawless. I can’t find the post and I’ll not do her rebuke justice, but she was right. “You make ‘flawed’ sound like it’s a disease or a curse…” or something like that. She was right. It’s not a big deal to be flawed. We all are.

We are who we are and we all have work to do to feel better about who we are so that we don’t feel shame because once the shame is gone, then we can change.

I believe that if we do a better job of feeling better about who we are then we will BE better. It’s not possible to feel good about yourself and be “bad.” Well, maybe it is, I’ve seen some pretty crazy Montel and Maury talk show episodes. So… it’s out there.

To me, feeling good about yourself can be quiet. It needn’t be gaudy and loud. Goodness needn’t be like a tractor beam and pull in people or energy by force. It generates and therefore it just is. Sometimes gaudy goodness can lead to embarrassment. That’s ok.

Embarrassment, we can deal with. (c) warner bros.

Embarrassment, we can deal with. (c) warner bros.

So that whole thing about shame and its corrosion on the mechanism that believes we are capable (and deserving!) of change… it’s heavy. Can you honestly look at ANYONE … take a few deep breaths and close your eyes to think about it … that does not deserve to be free of shame? (I’m not talking about releasing dangerous criminals, but I am talking about releasing their feelings of shame.) Is redemption only for the “good” people? Is change reserved for some people and prohibited from others? Who are we to say so?

Are you worthy of redemption and change? Of course you are!

The more we bury shame, pretend we don’t feel it, cast it off as someone else’s problem, the more it isolates us. The more we steel ourselves to it, the more we talk about it (with safe people) the less powerful it is. When we share (with safe people) we build empathy.

Empathy is relation and communion; the sense that the other person can pull from within themselves the feeling that the other person is expressing. Empathy is quiet and observant. Empathy does not diminish or compete. Empathy says, only “I get it,” and nothing else. It’s like those giant blue humanoids in “Avatar,” when they said “I see you.” That’s empathy.  Empathy can stop shame. Why? because it takes two people and both of them are showing themselves. (I’m not gonna say it… I’m not gonna write about ‘showing up.’)

Brown just shared this brilliant video which does a great job explaining empathy and sympathy. I used to get very confused between them, but no more!

For me, shame has many iterations.

For women, shame says, “I’m not enough.” Most of my primitive shame revolves around not being what I perceived as “enough” for my mother. The task I was given was impossible. I see that now, but it took years to not only acknowledge it (because I did see it as an absurd detail) but to also accept it. You can see a car and believe it is safe. But until you drive it or survive an accident in it, you don’t know how safe it is.

For men, shame says, “don’t let them see you weak.” I see that all over the place. In my family, I work hard to let my sons feel safe expressing their emotions. I don’t like the kicking and near drownings in the hot tub, and I can do with out the wrestling for the milk when we sit down to eat, but I know that’s part of their male expressiveness. It’s in their DNA. Do they worry about being perceived as weak? I don’t know; I believe that ‘weakness avoidance’ is ingrained in their male identity: study hard, have a pretty girl, be funny, be good at sports, play an instrument well… Other than the grades, I see these goals as endeavors, chances they’ll take to fit in. And that’s part of the shame thing too — we all want to fit in.

I hate being excluded. I’d rather quit than be fired. Rejection and exclusion hurts. One of the best things that has happened to me this year, happened when I let down my guard. A gal I’d become estranged from due to ego and fear (on my part, I can’t and won’t speak for her) changed course and we’re good friends again. She’s had a rough year and so have I. We knew, at our cores, that the other person was good and true; we just needed to be ready to believe it.

I have met some of the best people in the world via their blogs or on the Internet. One I met just last month, because I replied to her post on Elephant Journal has become a very important and empathetic pen pal to me. She recently lost her mom and I wrote to her because I was touched by her post about her mom’s upcoming death from cancer. When I wrote to her, I told her she’d opened my heart and I wanted her to know. She wrote back the next day and told me her mother had passed two days before. She was touched by my note and asked me to be a pen pal. And we are.

We email every day now because we know, as much as we love our husbands and they love us, there is NO way for them to understand our pain of loss, grief, isolation and anger. She has a similar backstory to mine, which makes it even more amazing. That wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t feel that empathy and tell her how I felt. I have been blessed with wonderful commenters here on this blog who help me because I open up. I have no shame in my story. It doesn’t define me anymore.

So I invite you… if you feel shame, tell a safe someone about it. Hell, I’m safe. You know just about everything there is to know about me. (No, I’ve saved some things…)

My point is that everyone has been there. That’s the part we need to work on: sharing that stuff. That creates the empathy. Opening ourselves … nope. She almost got me. I’m not doing it.

Starting over…

To see shame for what it is: smallness, we need to become bigger to beat it. Big enough to trust someone else.

Thank you.

ps – i seem to be on an “Animal House” kick this week … aren’t you glad?!

2 responses »

  1. That video…whoa! I get so few empathic responses from people. So many times I hear “at least” before a response. I am totally going to watch my responses to other people and stop myself from doing that. Although, sometimes the “at least” perspective is a little helpful in reminding me to have gratitude or to reframe my perspective, but most of the time it just makes me feel worse. It’s like you feel bad and then you feel bad for feeling bad. Awful that we do that to each other, isn’t it?

    I think of embarrassment as something I do today that I can laugh about later and shame as something that makes me feel like I am a horrible person who doesn’t deserve to live every time I think about that “something.” I have moments from my past that actually bring that shame feeling back whenever I even think about them as if I am reliving it! It’s terrible and you have to have empathy for yourself too I think to overcome some of that which takes work and time.

    I was thinking today about Brené talking about women having to do it all and look good while doing it. I feel that type of shame right now today. I am over here working like crazy trying to pull off jewelry making and Christmas and my house is a disaster and I look like a disaster too. I feel like I fail at the making it look easy part. I was reminded through my husband that none of this is easy. He did the dishes and washed a table and was so impressed with his accomplishment because he did it while being in charge of our daughter. To him, doing that was an amazing act. I realized how much I do, but don’t give myself credit for because I think I should do all of it perfectly and without credit. Asking for credit makes it seem like it wasn’t easy, right? My husband is all, “Look what I managed to do!” He doesn’t feel any shame in pointing out what he did do in despite of all of the things he didn’t get to. I think most people would appluade his effort, but if it were me they would say, “Why isn’t your house neater? What are you doing all day?” It’s weird how we judge people and ourselves and create these waves of shame. I just hope I can create a better environment for my daughter. One with less guilt and shame.

    • heavy, Lil, and as usual: on point.

      this was an easy post for me to cover and i think it’s because, like you, it’s so relatable.

      when you were talking about yourself feeling the shame all over again, i started to feel my shame all over again.

      i had a call with an angel therapist today (woo-woo) and it was amazing. i said to her that i wanted to thank my angels for protecting me and for helping me all these years and she said, “no. they don’t want or need your thanks because it’s their job. that is what they signed up to do, be on your team. their ‘pay’ is when you feel good about yourself and when you allow abundance into your life and when you feel good about feeling good and give yourself permission to live your life’s purpose WITH JOY. she said, “someone taught you when you were young that you weren’t valuable and that you were less-than.” she also said, after that, “once you believe, in your soul and on a cellular level that you ARE worthy and that you deserve abundance and that you need to ALLOW abundance, then you (me and maybe you too?) will become more organized; the things in our lives will start to fall into place.” and i think that’s it. that if we determine to believe in ourselves to let these good things happen to us because we deserve them, then it will allow the flow of good energy and then we can give and get and give and get because it’s RIGHT to do.

      deep good heavy stuff.

      let’s do this. let me know if you want her info. xoxo

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