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Brene Brown - We Are Enough

Shame is the dominant emotion experienced by mental health clients, exceeding anger, fear, grief, and anxiety. So, if the mental and public health communities aren't talking about shame or providing enough safe spaces for people to get help with shame issues, how do we ever begin to talk about it?

If you put shame in a petri dish and cover it with judgment, silence and secrecy, it grows out of control until it consumes everything in sight - you have basically provided shame with the environment it needs to thrive.

The first time I read “I Thought It Was Just Me,” I sat there highlighting multiple sentences on each page. I had never put to words what was being described as shame, although I was intimately familiar with what she was talking about. The default for many of us is to just say "that's how things are in life" as we gloss over the most significant emotional events of our lives. Even worse, we defend the harm that was done to us.

I wonder about the role of shame when it comes to development. A lot of us internalize at an early age that we weren't good enough, we weren't protected in our hardest stories, and our innocence did go away quickly. It seems like a difficult task for parents to balance both discipline and nurturing/support while also preparing children for a harsh external environment. The lack of modelling leads to adults then not tending to our own need for support and acknowledging when we need tough love. Shame becomes the crucible to pass through. It’s uncomfortable, it forces us to look at things that are better dismissed or forgotten. A lot of us learn that we are truly alone when it comes to our worst stories of being shamed by others.

I was at the library one day checking out a few books, and a dad and son were also there checking books out next to me. The father out of nowhere started chastising his son for scanning the books wrong in the scanner. He told his son that he was stupid, dumb, and that he can’t do anything. I froze and stood there wondering how he talked to his son at home if this is how he talks to him in public. There's a quote that says that how parents talk to their kids becomes their inner voice (Peggy O'Mara).

Some good thoughts:

  • Guilt - I feel bad about my behavior / I am still a good person though. Shame - I feel bad about the core of who I am and it isn't good enough. I am to blame.

  • Shame is being rejected.

  • You work hard to show the world what it wants to see. Shame happens when your mask is pulled off and the unlikable parts of you are seen. It feels unbearable to be seen.

  • Shame is feeling like an outsider – not belonging.

  • It’s about self-loathing. Shame is hating yourself and understanding why other people hate you too.

  • Shame is like a prison. But a prison that you deserve to be in because something’s wrong with you.

  • To move away from judging, we must be very mindful of what we are thinking, feeling, and saying. You can't fake non-judgment. It's in our eyes, our voices and our body language.

  • Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It's a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.

  • Shame unconsciously drives thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Its survival depends on remaining undetected; therefore, it seeks silence and secrecy.

  • When it comes to sharing vulnerability, it's wise to take time to test whether the other person is worthy of hearing our stories and to assess our own level of safety and comfort in sharing sensitive material.

  • Empathy is the antidote to shame. The most powerful words are "me too."

  • You show me a woman who can actually sit with a man in real vulnerability and fear, I'll show you a woman who has done incredible work.

  • You show me a man who can sit with a woman who has just had it, she can't do it all anymore, and his first response isn't "I unloaded the dishwasher!" but he really listens, because that's all we really need. That's a man who has done his work.

  • Children are hard-wired for struggle when they get here. Our job is not to make them perfect. Our job is to tell them they are imperfect and wired for struggle, but they are worthy of love and belonging. Show me a generation of kids raised like that, and we'll end some of the problems we see today.

  • When we work from a place that says we are enough, we stop screaming and we start listening. We are kinder and gentler to the people around us and to ourselves.

Shame is a loss of face, whether at the hands of a bully or a parent. Shame is hanging your head, whether in response to "You should be ashamed of yourself" or "I'm so disappointed in you." Shame feels like a wound made from the inside. Shame is dishonor, fallen pride, a broken spirit. The beaten, humiliated individual endured shame until it broke the self. If unchecked, shame can engulf the self, immersing the individual deeper in despair. To live with shame is to feel alienated and defeated, never quite good enough to belong. And secretly, the self feels to blame; the deficiency lies within. Shame is without parallel a sickness of the soul. The source of low self-esteem, poor self-concept, or diminished self-image is shame. That is the affective source of later feelings of inadequacy or inferiority. Shame is also the source of what has been called narcissistic wounds or injuries. For all these reasons, it makes sense to consider shame as the central, integrative concept that unites all of the foregoing states. Each represents a different face of shame.

Gershen Kaufman.

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