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4 Ways to Overcome the Heavy Burden of Shame

4 Ways to Overcome the Heavy Burden of Shame

It’s time to drop the heavy burden of shame that you’ve been carrying around.

Shame is an emotion that we all experience. Contrary to popular belief, it is not reserved only for those who have had challenges with trauma or difficult early life experiences. It feels like shame hides in our darkest corners. According to Dr. Brene Brown it actually tends to lurk in familiar places. This includes appearance, body image, motherhood, parenting, mental health, sex, and religion. Those are parts of our lives that we think about everyday. Therefore, shame can be really problematic.

What Is Shame And What Does It Feel Like?

Given that shame can be a tough emotion to identify, let’s start with a definition. Based on her research, Dr. Brown defines shame as the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of acceptance and belonging. According to Dr. Brown, women have described shame as being devastating, incredibly lonely, rejected, and excruciating to explain how it feels to them. Dr. Brown collected several examples from her research. One example is feeling like an outsider -- not belonging, hating yourself and feeling like you understand why others hate you too. As well as being in a prison, or having that pit in the bottom of your stomach that is dark and hurts a lot. Some people experience shame as feeling like they are separate or isolated from others. It is important to take a step back and think about your own experience of shame when it happens.

Why Is Shame a Problem?

Shame can make many things more difficult for us. Shame can make us feel separate from others and can lead to feelings of disconnection. In addition, shame often tells us to not bother reaching out to people or to form new relationships. This can leave us feeling lonely and like we do not measure up to others. Shame also leads to us feeling fearful and not taking the steps we want to take in moving forward with our lives. If we believe that we are not worthy of participating or belonging in something, we are not going to take the risk of showing up. The other reason that shame can become problematic is that it leads to blame. We can get stuck in a cycle of blaming ourselves or others, either of which can damage our relationships or feelings of self-worth.

How Can I Learn to Manage My Shame?

According to Dr. Brene Brown, there are four elements that are shared by women who have high levels of shame resilience. We can use these factors to take a more active approach in managing shame in our own lives.

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  1. Develop the ability to recognize and understand shame triggers. Recognizing shame allows us to process what is happening before making snap decisions that might not be helpful for us. To do this, we need to identify what our triggers are, or the things that tend to provoke shame in us. We might have specific personal or professional relationships that tend to bring up shame for us. We can even engage in behaviors that we feel shame about. When we can identify our triggers, we know with some reliability that these situations are going to provoke feelings of shame for us.

  2. Develop high levels of critical awareness about their shame. Awareness is knowing or having an interest in something that is happening. When it comes to shame, it is important to be interested in the process and to think about the context in which we are experiencing shame. Our own experiences are tied to the larger social environments around us. When we feel shame, we often feel like we are alone and that it is only about us. The truth is that many of our shame experiences come from expectations of others. This can be messages from the media or our beliefs about what we think others want us to be. To develop critical awareness, ask yourself: Where might these messages be coming from? How can I normalize what is happening here? Is this reality or am I making assumptions.

  3. The willingness to reach out to others. According to Dr. Brene Brown, we heal through our connections to others. This applies to shame as well. When we don’t reach out to others, we tend to feel shame and to isolate. When we do reach out and tell others about what we are experiencing, we can feel understood and heard by others, which can reduce our experience of shame. It's helpful to remember that when reaching out to others, shame is a universal experience that all people have. Therefore, most people can connect with understanding what it feels like.

  4. The ability to speak shame. If we are speaking shame, we are expressing how we feel and asking for what we need. Practice explaining how you are feeling to a trusted other. This will allow you to learn more from your shame experiences. Then, clearly communicate what it is you want or need from them in order to help you move forward. For example, if you are experiencing shame about the ending of a relationship, you might share with a friend that you are experiencing shame. And with this shame comes fear and confusion. You might want to ask this friend for additional support, patience, and sensitivity as you adjust to the new changes in your life.

Spend some time this week thinking about what shame feels like for you. Notice when you tend to experience it and what brings it on, and work to become more aware of how it might be operating in your life. Practice any or all of the four strategies mentioned above. A decrease in intensity of shame can bring about all sorts of benefits. You might feel more connected to others, open to experience, and an ability to step out of unhelpful thought or behavior patterns.

Interested in managing shame more effectively? Learn more about our program The Daring Way here.

Isn't it time to make your shame experience less burdensome? Consider joining one of our groups or participating in individual therapy. Contact us today to learn more about our programs with Dr. Jessica Renz, Certified Daring Way™ Facilitator-Candidate (CDWF-Candidate).

Further information is available at www.thedaringway.com

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