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Confronting Feelings of Shame: Part 1

Posted January 7, 2013 by Monica O'Connell in Life After Five

The work of Brene Brown has really inspired my recent conversations with clients about shame, vulnerability, and courage.  Her book, Daring Greatly, was on my list of top “self-help” must reads and her TEDx talk is uber-popular. I wanted to dive into a few conversations about shame, what it looks like, and how to bust through it. I’ve found it’s such a common barrier to getting what you want out of life and the conversation resonates with so many people. I’ll use some of her work in this post and to check out her stuff even further, I totally recommend buying the book.

Shame is the fear of disconnection, that there is something so wrong with us or with something that we’ve done that we are unworthy of being connected to others. People oftentimes confuse shame and guilt, so let me define them for you.

Guilt = there’s something wrong with my behavior.

Shame = there’s something wrong with me.

Guilt is our own version of Jiminy Cricket from Pinocchio: the little voice that keeps us aligned with our values. It’s often our “uh oh” voice that says we need to do something different. Sometimes it arrives before we do the behavior, as a warning: “Don’t do this, you’ll regret it.” Sometimes it shows up after, to tell us we have to go back and correct our mistake.

A few other feelings often confused with shame are humiliation and embarrassment. Both of these can still be differentiated from shame by noticing that those feelings are not about us as a human being, but instead about our behavior. Embarrassment is one that usually fades away and can sometimes be made better by laughing about it with others. We’ve all tripped on the ground and made a joke about how the ground must have moved to trip us. Right? That’s embarrassment.

Things you should know about shame (This comes directly from Brene Brown):

  1. We all have it.
  2. We are all afraid to talk about it.
  3. The less we talk about it, the more control it has over our lives.

Now that you know more about the definition of shame, what do you think? How do you see it showing up in your life? Oftentimes with this basic definition I have a bunch of people say, “Shame doesn’t really impact me.” And that really might be the case. Or, you’ll check out my posts in the next few weeks where I further define how it shows up in such a sneaky way in our lives AND how to kick it to the curb!

About the Author

Monica O'Connell

Monica O’Connell is a Licensed Marriage and Family therapist in Minneapolis, Minnesota. In her practice, she spends her career cheering on “Career Girls” as they learn how to get the most out of life. Monica works with arguably some of the most successful, intelligent, inspiring women in the Twin Cities who tackle self-discovery, career success, and what’s getting in the way of their true desires. She shares her favorite moments as those “best described not by words but by the stomach aching, face soreness that comes from spending an entire day laughing with loved ones.”