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How To Move Beyond Shame

Shame is the intensely painful feeling of feeling like you’re not enough and don’t deserve love (that is at least how Brené Brown describes it). I knew that definition and I’ve heard her talk about shame, but didn’t have a full grasp on it until I felt it myself.

Over the past few years, I was in a rather dysfunctional romantic relationship. After lots of ups and downs, it finally ended with a shame experience. The then still love of my life said the most awful things to me with the intention of causing me pain. That was when I knew what shame felt like and let me tell you, it is no fun.

On the other side of this, shockingly I was happy it happened because I learned so much about myself, realized I am much stronger emotionally than I thought and got to be proud of myself. After that happened, and I after I stopped crying, I talked about my experience. Why? Because shame likes secrecy.

Brené Brown, Ph.D. (who is my pretend fairy godmother and queen of teaching empathy and shame), writes about shame in her book Daring Greatly.

She says that shame derives its power from being unspeakable.

When we have a shameful experience and don’t talk about it, our brain gets caught up in playing it over and over again and that is when the gremlins come out. That is when our negative self-talk is in its happy place. Our brains are telling us that the person was right about what they said.

So, I talked about it and talked about how it made me feel.

In the beginning, it wasn’t easy because it brought those emotions back up, but I shared that experience with people I trust and who love me which allowed me to be vulnerable and okay with those feelings.

That is the thing about sharing a shame experience, you can only share it with, according to Brené, someone who has earned the right to hear your story.

I am not advocating for you to post on Facebook and walk down the street telling people about your pain, but talk to the people in your corner and on your team.

Next, I told myself his words and message to me was incorrect. That is what Brené calls shame resilience.

In her book, she says shame resilience is the ability to say

“This hurts. This is disappointing, maybe even devastating. But success and recognition and approval are not the values that drive me. My value is courage and I was just courageous. You can move on, shame.”

For me, that sounded like “Shit that hurt. But I love myself and am so proud of who I am. My worth is in who I am and not what someone else says about me.”

It may sound a bit different for you, but when you feel that awful and intensely painful feeling, acknowledge it and change the narrative. I wish I could tell you I only had to say this to myself once, hell sometimes I still need to, but I promise it gets so much easier and less frequent.

Shame will look different for many of us.

You can feel shame when you don’t get the promotion you worked your ass of for; or when someone tells you that you have gained weight when you are so self-conscious about your weight; it can be your parents telling you they are disappointed in your and your choices; it can be your infertility or single status when you desperately want something else.

You will know when you feel it because it is emotionally painful (and the research I do on the brain assures me that that pain is as real as physical pain).

Since we all will feel shame, I want to make sure that you have some tools in your toolkit to deal with shame:

  • Call it out and own your story. When you have a shame experience (when you have that really painful emotional feeling based on an experience), you need to try to own it and know what it is. Owning the story will help with step 2…
  • Talk about it. I’ve already discussed this, but I want to make sure you know that this is critical. You cannot combat shame without voicing it to someone who loves and cares for you.
  • Be kind to yourself. Most of us have gremlins or an inner critic and it will increase when we are dealing with shame. You have to remember to be kind to yourself and to talk to yourself like you would other people, particularly when you are experience shame.

Once you have experienced shame, it may be hard for you to be vulnerable and to connect after that (I am working with that now). I am reminding myself to continue to do the three things I already mentioned, but I am also trusting myself to make decisions that are in my best interest moving forward.

Self-trust isn’t always easy, but for me, it will help me to open myself up to another relationship in the future and is the only way that I will not bring my past relationship to a future one. Oh, and read Daring Greatly by Brené Brown because everyone should.

In my #sidehustlejob, I am a consultant and coach that teaches nonprofits and women about the brain and its effects on organizational and personal outcomes. I would love to talk to you all more about shame, your experience and how to move forward. Reach out to me!

About the Author

Jessica Sharp

Jessica Sharp is passionate about empowering underserved and minority communities, diverse representation, and brain education. Jessica is the Founder and Chief Educator of Sharp Brain Consulting which works with public service agencies to provide education about the brain and its effect on organizational outcomes. Additionally, she is on the leadership team of Meals on Wheels in her town of Greenville, SC. She is completing a Masters of Public Affairs from the University of Missouri. Upon her completion, she will attend William James College to obtain a Doctorate of Psychology. Follow her on twitter at @sharpjes.