Confronting Feelings of Shame: Part 2

Posted January 21, 2013 by Monica O'Connell in Life After Five

The next part of this series looks at how shame and vulnerability show up differently for men and women. Much of this information again comes from Brene Brown and her book, “Daring Greatly” as well as my clinical experience and the shared clinical experiences of my colleagues.  Since this is Career Girl Network, let’s start with women though I argue both greatly impact us women.

There are two top triggers for shame in women:

  1. How We Look (Body Image).  We could spend days having this conversation. It comes up over and over again in the work that I do.  So many women attach shame just about every part of their bodies.  It impacts the way women see themselves within the context of the world.  And these messages aren’t just from yesterday and today.  They seem to come from when women were teeny tiny adorable little girls and they’ve just been adding shame upon shame to those stories.  And because of this, they’re unable to do the work of body love and acceptance until they get ahead of it. If I’m speaking right into your soul, know that you’re not alone.  The proof of that is right here.  You and millions of other women have this shared experience AND you can get ahead of it.
  2. Motherhood.  Now, don’t go skipping this paragraph if you’re not a mom and/or don’t plan to be one.  You’re included in this category too.  It all starts with the question: Are you dating anyone? Why aren’t you dating anyone? You’ve been dating someone for a long time, when are you getting engaged?  You’re engaged? When are you getting married? You two have been married/together for a while, when are you going to have a baby? You just had a baby, when are you going to have the second one? You have two kids? How’s that going? What kind of bottles are you using? Have you heard about the BPA in baby food? Are you all organic? Yikes stripes! Are you with me? It should then come as no surprise that women over-think, feel tons of pressure and anxiety about some of the most important life decisions they should make just for themselves.

The top trigger for shame in men is:

  • Don’t Be Weak. One of the most telling parts about the research done on men and shame is that there is hardly any research whatsoever.  Men aren’t really allowed to have shame (because that would be weakness and that’s not ok.) Men describe this in groups often.  They say that their female partners encourage them to share their feelings, experiences & vulnerability and then can’t handle it, don’t know what to do with it or don’t like it so they shut them down.  Now this isn’t always (and is rarely) intentional.  Women (and other men) don’t do this on purpose but they instead feel so uncomfortable with a man having feelings that they respond according to that.

Shame shows up differently for everyone. These three examples just skim the surface but are the most common. Does this happen in your life? When a guy is vulnerable, how do you support them and encourage their experience? More to come next week!

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.”