What Everybody Should Know about Shame and Relationships

This past Sunday, I watched the second part of the Super Soul Sunday presentation with Dr. Brené Brown. This episode focused on shame. I was fascinated by what I learned from Dr. Brown’s research.

  • Shame is highly correlated with addiction, depression, eating disorders, violence, bullying and aggression
  • Guilt and shame are different. Guilt is: I am sorry I made a mistake. Shame is: I am sorry I AM a mistake.
  • “In the absence of love and belonging, there will always be suffering.” – Brene Brown

As I watched the show, I realize that I had a misunderstanding of what shame was. Shame is a normal emotion. It corrects our behavior, but I admit that I thought of shame in the context of bad behavior. I didn’t think about small instances where we are shamed and we might hold on to it for longer than necessary.  Dr.  Brown said, “Shame doesn’t have to be ranked. No matter how small your wound, it needs to be healed. If your boss ridicules you in front of your co-workers and you felt shame, that needs to be healed.” I felt a sudden spark of understanding. We can be shamed for small things, such as: missing a bill and having your cellphone cut off, dating the wrong person or for the way we dress. When someone questions your intelligence or denies your feelings, you can suffer shame. When it becomes apart of your identity is when it can become a problem.

I am an emotional person. I’ve felt shamed because I have a hard time not expressing my feelings. I’ve been met with frustration and even disgust when I show that I am upset. But, what I long for is someone who can accept the emotion and allow me to feel it. A simple hug is all it takes. When someone responds with negativity, it’s my cue to not share emotions. Eventually, it creates distance in the relationship.

Dr. Brown said, “You share your story with people who have earned the right to hear the story.”

Often, we make the mistake of turning away from the people who show they love us and care about our feelings, in favor, of people who respond to our feelings with shaming. When we are shamed, it confirms our beliefs about ourselves and we continue the cycle of suffering. Instead, we should seek true connection. Sometimes, what you are being shamed for may be something they are trying to fix within themselves. By projecting on you, they are trying to fix the issue within themselves. It’s important to seek out people who validate you instead of shame you. And when you experience shame understand that it’s not always about you. Dr. Brown says you need to tell your story to get rid of the shame. Make sure that you share it with someone who cares about protecting your feelings.

Fortunately, there is a cure for shame. It’s empathy and compassion. We all long for connection. Dr. Brown said: “Connection is the energy that is created between people when they feel seen, heard and valued; when they can give without judgment. Shame unravels connection.”  Sometimes, we just need someone to listen, acknowledge our feelings even when they don’t agree with them and go through the emotions with us. If you can find someone who creates that safe space for you and who allows you to do that for them, it’s a beneficial relationship to have. It’s the type of relationship that can save lives.

Have you experienced shame? Share your thoughts in comments.

Shame, blame, disrespect, betrayal, and the withholding of affection damage the roots from which love grows. Love can only survive these injuries if they are acknowledged, healed and rare.” 

― Brené Brown

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