I often speak of shame’s effect on my life, usually in conjunction with courage and recovery. I began learning about shame two years ago, and doing so led to major changes.
The first thing I learned about shame was its definition, which is grounded in Dr. Brené Brown’s research. The first part of Dr. Brown’s definition was easy to understand- pain.
The second part of the definition was news to me. Shame isn’t guilt.
Guilt has a purpose. Guilt can drive us to act better. It can help us improve our lives because it’s based on behavior.
Shame on the other hand… shame makes us feel innately wrong. Shame’s voice will have us believe we are unworthy of love, not because of what we do, but because of who we are. That belief isn’t getting us anywhere healthy. Shame landed me on the bathroom floor, sobbing, and using harmful ways to try to cope.
The most dangerous thing about shame is how it sets us apart from others. Humans need connection. We need love. Shame tells us we can’t have those things because we’re unworthy.
We do our best to numb our pain. We fear being found out. It’s one thing for us to feel we’re not good enough, but we don’t want other people to figure it out! So we lash out, withdrawal, and look for ways to disconnect on our own terms. I think we’d all prefer to opt out of something, rather than be shunned by peers!
Shame can steal a life. It’s that potent. Shame is one of the most powerful emotions in my life, right up there with grief.
I am grateful to be learning about shame as part of my commitment to recovery. The more I understand the beast, the more resilient I become. Knowledge is power, and it’s good to know what I’m up against!
You can learn more about Brené Brown here .