If you want to know what is blocking you from living your best life, the answer is most likely to involve Shame.
Dr. Brené Brown has spent years researching and studying the impacts of shame. She has written several books on the topic and is considered an expert when it comes to understanding shame, the impacts it can have, and how to move past it in order to lead a better, healthier life.
Brené Brown defines shame as:
“The intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of acceptance and belonging.”
Shame is the feeling that we are bad. Not that our choices or actions are bad, but that who we are is bad.
Shame is the feeling that we are not worthy enough or good enough. Shame is the feeling we carry that keeps us up at night and makes us question our actions, our choices, and if we deserve to receive love.
Shame shows up to varying degrees and in different ways, and there are also many different types of shame we can experience. Unless we make the time to dig to the root and learn to identify our shame, it is likely that we all have some form of shame lurking in the back corridors of our lives.
After all, we live in a society that preys on shame, for where there is shame there is often money to be made and products to be sold.
Let’s first take a look at the main types of shame:
- Body Image Shame: this is one of the most common types of shame and includes comparing or loathing your body shape or appearance.
- Cultural Shame: this includes your religious or cultural beliefs, can also include feelings of alienation due to your racial background, ethnicity, traditions, etc.
- Parental Shame: this includes feeling inadequate as a parent or feeling that your parents were inadequate to raise you. Can also include shame around your family unit and family planning choices.
- Sexual Shame: shame you may feel about your sexual preferences.
- Career Shame: the feeling that you are not “successful” enough or that you are not on track with the rest of your peers.
- Health Shame: the shame you may feel around having a disease, mental illness, handicap, or disability.
- Age Shame: the shame you may feel about your age, whether you feel you are too old or too young. Can also include shame about the aging process.
- Financial Shame: the shame you may feel for struggling to pay the bills or for feeling like you don’t have enough money to be included or accepted in your community or social circle.
- Productivity Shame: feeling that you are not working hard enough or long enough hours to be considered valuable or successful.
- Trauma/Grief Shame: the feeling of shame that arises after a traumatic experience that makes you feel like you should just “get over it”. Can also include feelings of blame or that you deserve to suffer.
There is really no limit on where shame can show up in your life and for most of us, we may not even realize it is there until we start to become aware of what it looks, feels, and sounds like.
For many of us, shame also arises from things we cannot control, such as the aging process or the state of our health, which further propels us into hopelessness or negativity.
According to research done by Brown, shame makes you feel trapped, powerless, and isolated, and these are some of the ways that it can manifest or show up-
- A need to gain control or power over others
- Being aggressive or violent with others
- Withdrawing, keeping secrets or staying silent
- Seeking approval and belonging
- Depression or anxiety
- Eating disorders
“Shame is the birthplace of perfectionism. When perfectionism is driving, shame is riding shotgun and fear is that annoying backseat driver.”- Brené Brown
All of these symptoms are ultimately how we respond when we don’t feel loveable or worthy enough just as we are. This is not to say that we need to think of ourselves as flawless, perfect, human beings that can do no wrong, but rather it is about developing empathy and understanding towards ourselves and others, and knowing that no matter what our choices and actions are today, there is always time for us to learn, grow, and do better tomorrow.
According to Brown, living a life without shame is about connecting to empathy. It is about practicing compassion for ourselves and others and understanding that we are all just human.
In order to start clearing shame from our lives, we have to begin recognizing and understanding what our triggers are.
From this place, we can bring awareness to how and where shame shows up for us and what we can do release it from our lives.
Releasing shame requires patience, time, and a lot of self-compassion. While it may not be as easy as following some steps, here is a general understanding as to how to begin releasing shame from your life:
Step 1: Identify your shame
Where do you feel it? When do you feel it? What thought or programming is at the root of your shame? Recognize what has led to the feelings of shame that you experience. Recognize how this shame shows up for you in your life and what triggers it. This is often 90 percent of the healing work.
Step 2: Own your shame
Don’t feel more shame for feeling shame! Own it. State it out loud. Lean in to your shame and honor it for what it has shown and taught you.
Step 3: Set the intention to let your shame go
Sometimes stating this out loud can help. You can also release shame by talking it through with others or journaling to get it out on paper. When you start talking about your experience or sharing your story, it also helps you to gain a new perspective and see that you are not alone.
Step 4: Reprogram
When you feel shame arising be authentic with yourself and just breathe through the moment. Then you can begin gently nudging yourself to reprogram your shame into something productive or positive. This could be through reciting a powerful mantra or simply switching your thinking to a more loving and compassionate place when you feel shame bubbling up.
In fact, according to Brown, empathy is the most powerful antidote we have when it comes to removing shame from our lives.
Being empathetic is about:
- Being kind towards ourselves
- Understanding that we are only human
- Stopping the need to criticize and judge ourselves over and over again
- Recognizing that we all make mistakes
- Recognizing that we all suffer and are not alone in our suffering
- Honoring our pain and true emotions
- Feeling compassionate towards ourselves and our feelings
- Understanding we are all unique and we all have our own path and way of doing things
- Knowing we are worthy of a second chance
- Not over-identifying with our thoughts
When we are kind to ourselves, when we practice empathy, we begin reducing the need to feel shame.
Shame keeps you in submission and prevents you from living life to the fullest.
If you are grateful, empathetic, and learn to feel content with what you have in your life, you enter a state of true power and authenticity that no one can mess with.
So, let go of what people think. Let go of the need to be perfect or to compare yourself to others. Let the shame you feel in all areas of your life go, and step into living your best life.
“Wholehearted living is about engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness. It means to cultivate the courage, compassion, and connection to wake up in the morning and think- No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough. It’s going to bed at night thinking- Yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn’t change the fact that I am also brave and worthy of love and belonging.”-Brené Brown from her book, The Gifts of Imperfection
The ideas shared in this article have been inspired by Brené Brown’s work. To learn more, check out some of her books here.