Here is how to get to know our empathy through understanding our shame
Shame is the most human emotion we can experience. In the words of Brene Brown, it can be defined as, “The intensely painful feeling that we are unworthy of love and belonging.” There are vivid memories throughout our life that can bring up shame and there are also quiet and subtle moments of shame that we replay over and over again in our heads.
Discussing shame is hard to do. It feels too raw, too vulnerable. Unfortunately, the less you talk about it, the more have got it. Brene Brown, Ph.D., LMSW, wrote a bestselling book called, “Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead”. In that book, she says that shame needs three things to grow exponentially: secrecy, silence, and judgment. If you judge yourself for your experiences, keep them secretive, and stay silent about how you feel, shame can shape the way you think about yourself, the way you think and interact with other people, the choices you make, who you date, where you work--everything.
Unfortunately, in many schools in America, shame is still a prominent classroom tool. When we do something bad- we may experience guilt (e.g. “Sorry, I made an awful decision”) but we may also experience shame (e.g. “Sorry, I am an awful person”). We deeply hurt ourselves when we believe we are inherently not good enough. We may tell ourselves that we are worthless, which can be just as harmful as if you were saying it to someone else. Because of this, shame is highly correlated with addiction, depression, violence, aggression, bullying, suicide, and eating disorders.
If you can combat shame with empathy, you can kill the growth of shame. It cannot survive when it is spoken out loud. Brene Brown says, “Shame depends on someone buying into the belief that they are alone. When I call my best friend and tell her about my shame and she shows me empathy, there is no way shame can survive.”
Don’t be afraid of vocalizing your shame. They key is to share it with someone you trust- at the right time- and in the right place. If you have the courage to speak your truth- you will find that you are much braver than you thought. Asking for encouragement and help can make you very vulnerable but it also strengthens courage, determination, and self-love. If it feels like too much to initially share with another person, write down how you feel. Vocalize it in a way that feels good to you. Shame says we are never good enough but the truth is that there is always an inherent worth present. If you can remember that, you can more easily take responsibility for your actions and mistakes without letting it affect the core goodness of who you are.