Shame. Everyone can recognize it. It’s awkward. It’s uncomfortable. And despite all this, it’s 100% worth talking about.
The best thing I’ve read about shame comes from Karen Anderson, author of Adult Daughters, Difficult Mothers, “Shame is like an appendix.”
She says, “There may, at one time in the very distant past, have been a healthy reason or “positive” purpose for humans to experience shame. The same can be said for an appendix. According to evolutionary biologists, at one time, humans needed an appendix to digest food. It is no longer needed for that purpose. And yet humans are still born with an appendix… According to evolutionary psychologists, shame evolved to serve a function of social defense, similar to the way pain protects us from things that hurt us physically. We are born with shame ‘hardwired’ into our physiology. It is no longer needed for that purpose, and yet, we still experience it. And it can make us sick and, in some cases, kill us. In other words—there is NO longer such a thing as ‘healthy’ shame.”
And what is shame? According to Brené Brown (my go-to emotions researcher), shame is “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love, belonging, and connection.”
Shame = I am bad.
So why talk about it?
Because it is DIRECTLY correlated to boundaries and why we don’t set/hold them for ourselves.
- I’m a bad parent if I don’t get my kid the perfect holiday gift.
- If I don’t visit that relative, I’m a bad daughter, cousin, niece, etc.
- I’m a bad neighbor or friend if I say no to that party.
Many opportunities are ripe for shame to rear its ugly, appendix-like head.
And the “appendectomy” equivalent for shame starts with calling it out.
Start with acknowledging that shame has “burst” throughout your body and that it’s time to intervene.
Brené found in her research that shame thrives with secrecy, silence, and judgment.
But it could no longer survive if you could put shame into a petri dish and add connection and empathy.
Photo Credit: Atlas of the Heart by Brené Brown
One of the most amazing things about The School of MOM community is that not only are we actively cultivating an environment where shame cannot thrive, but we are also learning the skills to move us through (and beyond!) our shame response; enter self-compassion.
How does self-compassion work in the context of shame?
- Mindfulness: Name your shame. Notice it. Acknowledge that it’s present and most likely preventing you from setting a boundary or feeling good
- Shared humanity: KNOW you aren’t alone in your feelings of being bad/wrong/not worthy. We ALL have them!
- Self-kindness: Be kind to yourself. Speak to yourself like you would a friend or a loved one… or, frankly, even a stranger. We speak in ways to ourselves we would never speak to someone we don’t even know.
So there you have it. One of the most pervasive and toxic emotions out there (hey, shame!) can be vanquished with some research-backed self-compassion.
Speaking of shame, this is a VERY hot topic in my small group mother wound healing program; UNTETHERED.
If you have a strained/dysfunctional/non-existent relationship with your mom, there’s a 100% chance that you experience next-level shame (unless you’ve done some major healing work around it). And there’s also a really good chance that shame is seeping into all areas of your life (think burst appendix!) and wreaking some silent (or not-so-silent) havoc.
Now let’s work together to name that shame and douse it in a lot of empathy and self-compassion to create healthy boundaries in our lives.
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