• Christina Herr

Soul Sucking Shame - Recap (11.04.2019)

I fan-girl over Brené Brown. I give her the credit for providing the foundation for my recovery and growth after I hit rock bottom...I lovingly call that time "The Dark Period" of my life. I was so broken. I was like a wounded dog-not such a nice person. A therapist on my resilience team kept requesting Brené Brown books for her clients. One day I was bored and read one. It was like a light shining in. The first book I read was "I Thought It Was Just Me." This book was primarily based on shame and shame resilience. It was a tough book for me to get through because of where I was in my life, but I did.


I love the topic of shame and empathy because I believe the science behind the research saved me from a miserable life and I want to share it with who ever will listen.


Brené (2015) defines shame as "the inherently painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging (pg. 69)" We all experience shame. We think it only exists in dark horrible places, but it lives in every day life. Humans have a need for connection and belonging. Shame creates disconnection and can cause people to feel like they do not belong. We think that humans cannot feel real pain when it comes to emotions but this is not true. Things like shame and rejection light up the areas of the brain that identifies pain. We feel real pain when we are shamed. People try to use "shame" and "guilt" interchangeably, but they are different. Guilt is I did something bad. Shame is I am bad (Brown, 2015, pg. 71).


In my classes on resilience skills, I talk about what happens to our brain when we are stressed or experiencing trauma. Our ability to learn, think, or problem solve shrinks. Its like looking through a paper towel tube. When we are experiencing shame our prefrontal cortex is impacted and creates the flight or fight response-the same as when we experience stress or trauma. This makes it hard for us to learn new skills (why therapy does not work until the person gets through survival mode), analyze, or strategize.


This is why I love that Brené (2015) gives us four elements of shame resilience that we can use to guide us:

1. Recognize Shame and Understanding Its Triggers

When you experience shame, often you have the same emotional and physical sensations. I feel alone-even in a crowded room, feel hot, get flush, and talk fast. I feel like there is something wrong with me.

2. Practice Critical Awareness

I work to counter my thoughts because when I am in a "shame spiral" I talk to myself the way I would never talk to anyone else. Then when I am calm, I review "the tape" and figure out what happened.

3. Reaching Out

I will call a friend and share my story with them. My closest friends know I just need to talk things through, be a little dramatic, then I am fine.

4. Speaking Shame (pg. 75)

This part has been the hardest for me because its the most vulnerable to me. Telling someone that is causing me to feel shame can go two ways. It can go great-they learn something new-and they appreciate me sharing. Or, it can go really bad-they attack because they feel vulnerable. I have practiced this part of shame resilience and have learned that how someone treats me rarely has anything to do with me.


Speaking of reaching out and sharing, Brene (2015) shares some science behind shame in her book Daring Greatly that explains that shame thrives on secrecy. She shares a study done by psychologist and University of Texas professor James Pennebacker and his colleagues. This study showed that not talking to anyone about your experiences can be more damaging than the experience. But, when people shared their stories it improved their health and lowered their stress hormones (pg. 82)


Empathy is a way that we can work to not shame others or ourselves. This short video is the best explanation of empathy. The voice is a part of a Brené Brown TEDTalks, but the cartoon is oh so cute. Check it out!


After you look at the video, you might think that shame only happens when someone shares something vulnerable or goes through something traumatic. Do not get caught up in that. I experienced a "shame spiral" at a networking event. A fellow networking person decided to passively put me down. It sounded like he was trying to give me sage advice, but I realized after the fact it felt more like telling me there was something wrong with me. At first I was pissed that he treated me that way, especially in front of another person. But, then I had compassion for him. I have been told that I shine too brightly for some and I think I might have accidentally caused him to feel small. He felt vulnerable and attacked, shaming me.


Remember resilience is about self-reflection and personal growth. We can only change ourselves and speak our truth. It is not to be use as a weapon to tell others about their crappy behavior. I did not tell dude about himself at the next networking event. It was not my place and I do not need to interact with him. I set better boundaries and used better emotional intelligence.


I will also link one of Brené 's TEDTalks on shame here and vulnerability here


Brown, B. (2015). Daring greatly: How the courage to be vulnerable transforms the way we live, love, parent, and lead. Penguin.

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