Shame is not easy to talk about. It is a powerful emotion and can have trans-generational effects if it is not talked about and processed (Bradshaw, 1988). In order to develop a sense of worth, we need to have a parental figure giving our experience value. (Meares, 2005). If this is lacking, we believe that we are not worthy of connection, and we feel shame.
The Daring Way™ is a highly experiential methodology based on the research of Dr. Brené Brown. The primary focus is on developing shame resilience skills and developing daily practices that transform the way we live, love, parent, and lead. (www.thedaringway.com).
I have found this methodology extremely helpful in working with parents and professionals who work with children and their families. I run small groups for parents, teachers, therapists, and support workers where we explore and practice shame resilience together. As a trauma specialist, I often work with shame, and in doing so, utilise knowledge from a wide variety of sources.
Brené Brown’s (2012) research showing 3 important truths around shame is one such source. She states;
1) We all have it. It is our most primitive human affect.
2) Nobody wants to talk about it.
3) The less we talk about it, the more we have it. Shame hates words wrapped around it.
So how do we practice shame resilience if we can’t even talk about shame? And how can we raise children with high shame resilience if we as parents, teachers, and leaders do not practice shame resilience?
Of course, the answer is simple: we can’t.
The shame resilience skills learned in The Daring Way™ methodology are framed around four basic points;
• What triggered the shame?
Recognise shame, how does it feel? What happens in my body when shame occurs? What were the messages or expectations that acted as triggers? Where did they come from? Were they family messages learnt in childhood or were they current societal or cultural expectations? Were they traumatic or abusive experiences?
For example, if my family valued high academic achievement and anything else was criticised or put down, I might start believing that I am not smart enough and feel shame about that. I might then go on to develop compensating behaviours like overachieving and having several degrees or underachieving and not doing anything.
Later, when I become a parent, if my child comes home with bad marks, I might react in an angry or anxious way because those critical messages and put downs come easily to me as my organizing experience. At that point, if I do not recognise that the trigger is actually coming from my past, then I might shame my own child and pass on an unhealthy family legacy.
• Why am I in it? Practice critical awareness.
Continuing with the previous example, if I am able to examine why I am in shame, I might see that the message of only high academic achievements being valued is not my reality or what I believe in. If I can do this, I would be able to give value to my child’s experience (Meares, 2005) and show empathy, connection and compassion. I would be able to stop this unhealthy family legacy.
If I am unable to do this, then it is likely that I will continue to repeat the process and pass on the unhealthy message. This step can be difficult, and I have found that some body-oriented psychotherapy practices can be incredibly useful in enhancing awareness.
• Reaching out.
If I am able to talk about how I felt when my child brought home the bad marks, I might be able to connect with my child’s experience and support him or her appropriately the next time. If I am able to own that I felt shame and that I realised where it is coming from, and experience empathy from someone who I can trust, my original wound would heal a bit, and next time maybe it would be less intense.
• Speak shame.
We really need to talk about shame. When I talk about the shame I felt when I saw my child’s bad marks, I need to use the word shame. Shame likes to hide behind ‘I felt bad’, ‘that was silly of me’ and other euphemisms. However, if you check in with your body while you talk about a shaming experience, first using ‘I felt bad’ and then using “I was in shame”, you will feel the difference. It is a more visceral experience.
Of course, speaking shame requires another person to hear you talk; it cannot be something just said internally. It is important to speak shame to another, because the experience of shame is rooted in being unworthy of connection. When someone listens to you speak shame, if they are able to hear you and connect with you, then this can heal wounds.
You can see that the scenario above can be replaced really with anything. It could be about body image, it could be trauma, and it could be abuse.
Unfortunately shame is not something that we can just get rid of. Shame resilience is an ongoing practice. The processes that I use in teaching shame resilience are always tailored to the individual and often defy easy definition.
I truly believe that until we therapists, parents, and teachers have worked through our own triggers and practiced some form of shame resilience, we cannot fully be there for others. Not being there for the future generations can leave them feeling that they are not worthy of connection; and this would allow the shame cycle to continue.
Bradshaw. J. (1988) Healing the Shame that Binds You. Deerfield Beach, Florida: Health Communications
Brown, B. (2012) Daring Greatly. New York, USA: Penguin Goup.
Brown, B. (2013) The Gifts of Imperfect Parenting: Raising Children with Courage, Compassion, and Connection. Audio by Soundstrue.com.
Meares, R. (2005). The Metaphore of Play; Origin and Breakdown of Personal Being (3rd ed.). East Sussex, England: Routledge.
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