Here's How a Psychologist Wants You to Shut Down Shame

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When Dr.  Brené  Brown gave her TEDxHouston speech "The Power of Vulnerability"  in 2010, it seemed like the world dropped everything and listened to what she had to say. Nearly eight years later TED has ranked it the fourth most watched TED talk yet, and you could argue that this is because it was the first time someone had really researched, understood and presented the idea of shame and vulnerability on a public platform in such a palatable way.

But the idea of "shame" and how that relates to vulnerability and authenticity can be vast area of ground to try and get our heads around, particularly when it comes to understanding how it can impact our fast-paced world. So, to further help us as we push to become unapologetic women who support and not shame others, we asked Lysn psychologist, Breanna Jayne Sada for her expert help on the topic. Firstly, Sada breaks down the basic principles based on Dr. Brown’s own ‘Shame Resilience Theory.’ Dr Brené Brown defines shame as "an intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging". Let’s be honest, women are really good at feeling shame, and this is not something we should pat ourselves on the back for. We often criticise ourselves when it wasn’t our fault, we magnify our weaknesses instead of celebrating our successes, and try and live up to what society thinks we should be and then kick ourselves when we fall short of this instead of celebrating who we are."

Sada also explains the impact of this type of behaviour towards ourselves and others. "[Brown] discusses the feeling and experience of shame as a silent epidemic as it is associated with many forms of broken behaviour and unpleasant feelings; such as depression, grief, anxiety, eating disorders, addiction and violence."

Sada also suggests that those with a strong sense of belonging are able to practice the "three c’s." "Practicing these three c’s is how we can foster worthiness in our own lives: Courage, to be imperfect. Compassion, to be kind to yourself so you have the ability to be compassionate towards others. Amd connection; letting go of who you think you should be to be who you are, and have authentic relationships with yourself and others."

Below, Sada also shares the main ways in which Dr. Brown suggests develops resilience to shame from external, and perhaps even our internal dialogue. Read on for the suggested steps you can push into motion today.


Firstly, Sada suggests that recognising what triggers your shame is key to overcoming it. "Recognising shame and understanding our triggers and the vulnerability associated with these actions is important". Dr. Brown argues that when we recognise the emotional and psychical signs of shame we have a chance to understand what’s happening and seek help.


Next, it becomes important to critically analyse these triggers and think big-picture about how this links with our daily behaviour. "Practicing critical awareness about our own shame triggers which is the ability to link how we are feeling with society’s expectations of us as individuals."


Based on Dr. Brown’s theory, Sada suggests learning how to tell your own story openly and authentically. "Reaching out and telling our story with the theory that if we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can’t survive. Sada also believes that bringing these important topics out in the open help us connect and find empowerment over these issues. "Speaking about shame helps demystify the topic. Shame’s survival depends on going undetected. By learning the language of shame we can draw distinctions between our feelings and separate it from secondary emotions such as fear and isolation."


Another (more surprising) way to find resilience against shame is mindfulness. "Practicing mindfulness, meditation, or making a consorted effort to ‘check in’ with your feelings can assist with recognising that inner hostile voice that is associated with shame. By understanding these feelings, it can allow you to challenge your thoughts and cultivate a more compassionate inner dialogue which reflects self-acceptance and forgiveness rather than negative self-talk. This awareness of our thoughts and what makes us feel that way enables us to learn to react differently in the future and change that inner voice."


Finally, perhaps one of the most important lessons to learn from Dr. Brown is the idea of empathy. Sada explains more on this point. "Lets talk about empathy for a second—what is it? It is really understanding and sharing the feelings of another human being; We psychologically identify with and have a vicarious experience of feeling, believing, or thinking like another person. Empathy is an extremely vulnerable choice to make as we are forced to connect with a part of ourselves that recognises and knows the troubling and unpleasant feeling we see in someone else. Sympathy is not empathy. Empathy isn’t feeling sorry for someone. Rarely (if ever) does an empathetic response start with "at least"… Bit of a tangent here but this actually happened in my life recently, a friend experienced a miscarriage and peoples responses to her included "at least you weren’t further along" and "at least you know you can get pregnant!" When something is wrong in someone’s life often we are so uncomfortable we just want to put a silver lining around it and try to fix it and make them (or us) feel better. Let’s be honest—rarely can a simple response make something better. What makes it better is connection! (Back to the three c’s) …. "I don’t even know what to say…I’m sorry that happened and I’m glad you told me and I’m here for you" might have been a better response.

Developing empathy as an antidote to shame is essential in order to decrease negative feelings, which can be taking over the positive emotions you might want to be feeling. Unfortunately (and fortunately, depending on how you think) the more we engage with certain thoughts and behaviours, the more prone we are to having such thoughts. These thoughts can become habits and without addressing them, can turn into a part of our daily lives and negatively affect our general well being. Being more compassionate towards yourself can seem difficult at first but if you practice talking to yourself more kindly, eventually you can rewire those negative thoughts and treat yourself with love and empathy. Practicing compassion towards ourselves makes it possible to display compassion towards others."

For more on the courage to be vulnerable, and build shame resilience, purchase Brené Brown's book Daring Greatly ($19).

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