Why I Am Not Ashamed of Shame

Shame. It’s an ugly word. It’s not something I’ve liked to talk about. But I’ve changed my mind on the topic lately.

These days, I love talking about shame…and credit Brené Brown for bringing this silent saboteur out into the open. (If you aren’t one of the millions who has watched her TED Talk on shame, check it out here.)

Here are three reasons I love talking about shame:

1) Awareness: Shame is the catchall for the silent-but-deadly negative narrative that can play in our heads. You know what that narrative sounds like, “You should have done better at that.” Or, “You didn’t spend your money wisely.” Or, “You over-ate.” Or “You [this]… You [that].” There’s no end to the litany of shaming we do to ourselves.

2) Compassion: Once the shame is brought into the light, we have a choice of what to do with it. Continue the cycle of shame, shame, shame, or put a different frame on it. When we immerse ourselves in compassion, we end the negative dissonance of behaving in ways that don’t align with our values. We begin to see why we’re doing the things we’re doing.

For example, “You over-ate” can shift to “You comforted yourself with food because you over-committed to people. And you over-committed to people because you want to please them.”

Compassion activates the oxytocin-opiate system in our body, according to University of Texas compassion researcher, Kristin Neff.

3) Redirection: Once we recognize the “why” we did something and see that it was likely based in well-meaning intentions (e.g., pleasing people), we can begin to look at alternative behaviors. For example, “next time I notice a tendency to over-commit, I will pause and buy myself some time—next time, I can say ‘let me get back to you on that after I look at my current commitments.’”

As a coach, notice the “shoulds” and the “shame” in your client’s vocabulary. Explore compassion with your client. And see if it doesn’t give your clients a boost when it comes to trying out new behaviors.


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