Dr. Brené Brown is an amazing human. She is an inhumanly courageous person, facing shame and failure head on. She is funny, honest, brilliant. I don't know whether I want to be her when I grow up or just sit at her feet and absorb everything she knows. Maybe both.
Not only has her work shifted how I think about my work, but it's shifted how I think about shame, guilt, embarrassment, humiliation, and ultimately empathy and vulnerability. Although the first four seem like shades of the same, research has revealed that these are distinct experiences, and the impact of each on a person varies greatly.
Shame=I am bad.
Guilt= I did something bad.
Embarrassment= Something bad happened. I didn't deserve it.
Humiliation= Something bad happened. I deserved it.
Shame is highly correlated with addiction, aggression, eating disorders, depression, etc, etc. Guilt is inversely related to these things. Guilt is adaptive and is linked to empathy and understanding other people's perspectives. Shame is separated from humiliation by the idea that you deserve what happened. Like shame, it isolates and paralyzes. Whereas embarrassment is relatively brief; people can laugh about it and move on. It's the thought that "everyone's had this happen" when you discover spinach in your teeth on your first day of work . Humiliation would be closer to "I'm so stupid. I didn't even think about checking the mirror before starting my day. Now I can't look my coworkers in the eye because they'll know what a loser I am."
Shame Spirals: Men vs Women
Women: Do it all. Do it perfectly. And never let them see you sweat.
Men: Do not be perceived as weak.
Not only are there four differing self-conscious states, but research has also found that shame is triggered by different sources. How many women are driven to tears of shame and helplessness when they leave their child at daycare so they can be a bread-winner only to come home to cook, clean, and put the kids to bed? How many women hear the words "you're never enough. Do more. Be more?" This is the internalized mantra of the women in our society.
And men are raised to be pillars of strength. How many times do men hear "Suck it up" or "real men don't cry?" Men are disallowed from having normal human emotions. And when those inevitable emotions show up, men are taught to ignore the pain or are mocked for
"crying like a baby."
These messages of shame begin in infancy and are fed by secrecy, silence, and judgment.
Those that are resilient shame and humiliation are able to take a broader perspective. They are able to access compassion and acceptance not only for others, but themselves. Although deeply uncomfortable, these feelings are all a part of our experience, but we can learn to shift them if our patterns lead to spirals of shame and humiliation. We can move past our automatic responses and allow space for vulnerability and empathy. These are the antithesis, the Achilles heel, for shame and humiliation.
Sharing your shame story is one way to move shame out of the dark, festering corners and out into the open. Thinking about your own experiences with shame, who can you tell? Who would respond without judgment, providing love and empathy no matter what you shared? Dr. Brown calls this your "move-a-body" friend. They are the ones that would come at any time of the day or night to tell you move a body without any questions asked.
Recent events in my life lead me to uncover my move-a-body friends. Although the shame of sharing felt like it would shred my soul, the opposite was true. Their unconditional love and belief in me allowed me to shatter my paralysis and grow through some of the most humbling milestones I have ever experienced. And for that I am grateful- eternally, unendingly grateful. Their love and support allowed me to become a stronger, more resilient, and more deeply self-compassionate person.
We all make mistakes, but that doesn't make us failures; it makes us someone that dared greatly. How can you become someone that dares greatly?