Let’s be honest. We have a hard time admitting that we feel shame. Shame perpetuates the idea that we are just not “good enough.” And our society doesn’t really help the situation. It is our culture that actually teaches us what is and is not shameful. As Brené Brown writes, “Shame comes from outside of u s— from the messages and expectations of our culture. What comes from the inside of us is a very human need to belong, to relate.” We can be guilty of something we have done and we can feel ashamed of losing connection with a group we perceive as important. Often the shame room has pictures full of guilt, shame, and fear. Brené Brown speaks of shame as a web with different degrees or levels of shame. I consider shame a room that we place ourselves into. Shame is how we feel about what we experience in life.
An Environment of Pain and Loneliness
There are various ways we experience the “shame room.” We can be ashamed:
- Of our ethnicity
- Of living in a poor neighborhood
- Because we feel like an outsider in our own body (image issues)
- Because we are depressed as a result of owning the poor decisions of our past
- For failing to live up to our parents’ expectations
- For being a stay-at-home or working mom or a stay-at-home dad
- For making less money than our spouse
The experiences of shame can be diverse but the overall emotion is still the same. Brené Brown states: “Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of acceptance and belonging.” It is the unwelcome comments from so-called friends, family, or employee/employers. It is a feeling that moves from embarrassment to straight-out rejection. Shame usually hangs out with guilt and fear. If shame is the sister of guilt, then fear is her cousin. The relationship between shame, guilt, and fear equates to an environment of pain and loneliness. Many of my clients realize the pain but struggle to confront what it would take to change it. Clients decide to seek counseling when they can no longer hold onto their secret pain.
Moving Out of the Shame Room
How in the world do you move out of the shame room? It starts with courage and continues with embracing your authentic self. It takes courage to confront shame and the pain it brings when we do not feel accepted and loved. Moving out of the shame room means exploring our fears, imperfections, and losses without apology. Brown’s research suggests that anxiety and depression actually come from the challenges of perfectionism, stereotypes, gossiping, and addiction. One of my clients described the shame room as “feelings of not being good enough and be consumed with an overwhelming sense of loneliness.” Clients feel these emotions in their head, heart, mind, and body.
Developing Shame Resilience
Brown’s work speaks of establishing “shame resilience.” This involves incorporating empathy, courage, compassion, and connection into our lives. Brown suggests four ways of increasing shame resilience.
- Empathy: The ability to live in another person’s shoes. Learn to give and receive empathy.
- Courage: The ability to make mistakes and the willingness to be confronted about those mistakes.
- Compassion: The ability to share our humanity with one another.
- Connection: The awareness that we are not alone in how we feel or think.
This takes time and effort and Brown reminds us that it is more than a four-step program. It is a life-long process of resisting the temptation to step into the room of shame. Brown states that shame resilience is when we experience shame, “recognize it and move through it in a constructive way that allows us to maintain our authenticity and grow from our experiences.”
Christian Counseling to Overcome Shame
As a Christian counselor, I often encourage my clients to learn what the recovery process looks like when shame shows up. Moving from the shame room takes empathy, courage, compassion, and connection. If we extend more grace to others than we do to ourselves, then it is time to step into recovery mode. We develop the capacity to love our neighbor as ourselves and recovery is about giving ourselves permission to step out of the shame room. We never completely rid ourselves of shame, but we can manage the level of emotional distress that shame can bring. Refuse to allow shame to dominate your life anymore.
Excerpts from Brené Brown, I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn’t) (2007)Photo “Locked Wooden Door,” by nuchylee, FreeDigitalPhotos.net, ID 10044464