When’s the last time you felt shame?
For most of us, shame visits our lives on a regular basis.
We feel shame over the smallest of things, yet that feeling balloons out of proportion until it consumes us.
Here’s what we know about shame:
- We all experience it.
- Nobody wants to talk about it.
- The less we talk about it, the more we have it.
Instead of trying to avoid shame completely, our goal is to develop shame resiliency, the ability to walk through shame.
Identify Your Triggers
The first step is to know what triggers you.
What makes you feel ashamed?
Triggers are very personal. Different things trigger different people. So what triggers me may not be the same thing as what triggers you.
Here’s a story about one of my triggers.
Before I had children, I worked as a manager in the corporate world. I traveled a lot internationally and spent way too much time at work. But I had a great career I enjoyed. I felt accomplished, I was well compensated, it was challenging, and I had lots of opportunity to grow.
When I got pregnant with my oldest child, my daughter, I was given six weeks maternity leave. It did not feel like an option to me to go back to work after such a short time, so I resigned and stayed home with my daughter. Then my son arrived two years later. As much as I loved being home with my kids, I also found it hard at times that my husband left for work and traveled.
Now, to be clear, I made the decision because I wanted to. Nobody forced me.
But the transition was bumpy. My work identity, which had been so strong, disappeared. My identity was now as a mother. And, of course, I wanted to be perceived as a good one.
But my first-born is a spirited child, and she did things her own way. She was out there taking toys from other kids in the sandbox and not listening all that well. Boy, let me tell you how many snarky looks and comments I got during those sandbox years! This went straight to my shame grill.
How Do You Want to be Perceived?
The second aspect of shame to look at is identity, or how we want to be seen by others.
People with high shame resiliency can answer two questions:
- How do I want to be perceived?
- How am I afraid to be perceived?
In my example, I was afraid of being perceived as a bad mom. After getting some negative feedback from both family and a few friends, I felt that was exactly how others perceived me. And I was REALLY afraid of being perceived that way.
I cannot tell you how many times I felt shame. It felt the same every time:
A warm feeling swooping through my body … butterflies in my stomach … a bit of dry mouth.
It could come over me because of the smallest of comments. Or a look. Or outright hostility from fellow mothers.
At that time, I had no clue it was shame I was feeling.
I had no idea that any criticism of me as a mother was a BIG TIME shame trigger for me.
I would get pissed, hurt, angry, or sad, and at times probably many of them at the same time!
It wasn’t very productive, and I did not talk all that much about it.
Shame needs secrecy, silence and judgment to survive.
And boy did it survive, for years!
What shame does not do so well with is empathy.
With empathy, shame cannot grow.
Developing Shame Resilience
So how do we build shame resilience?
- Ask yourself what triggered it.
In my example, it could be that I got a dirty look and made up a story of that person believing I did not do a good job as a mom.
- Ask yourself why you were in it.
In my example, I was feeling shame because I was being afraid of being perceived as a bad mom.
- Reach out and share your story.
Speak to people you can trust, who will hold the space for you to show up just as you are.
- Speak shame.
Talk about shame: when it happens, how it happens, and why it happens.
Our worthiness lives inside our story.
Either we own our story, or we stand outside of it and hustle for our worthiness. Hustling is exhausting and moves us away from who we really are.
Let’s freaking be who we really are!