Our Responses to Shame

Many of us desire close relationships with family and friends around us, however when the rubber hits the road, we act in ways that move us further away from others. Many of us don’t realise we are doing it, however the result can leave us isolated and disconnected.

What can be happening is our response to shame. According to Brené Brown “Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of acceptance and belonging. Women often experience shame when they are entangled in a web of layered, conflicting and competing social-community expectations. Shame creates feelings of fear, blame and disconnect.” ~ I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn’t): Making the Journey from “What Will People Think?” to “I Am Enough” (p.29).

In some ways, it makes sense that we try to attempt to avoid the painful experience of shame by keeping our emotional distance from others by trying to protect ourselves. However, in the long run this creates suffering and further disconnection. Therefore, there must be another way.


3 Responses to Shame

In her book, “The Gifts of Imperfection“, Dr Brené Brown discusses the work of Dr Linda Hartling. Linda says that when we encounter shame we tend to do one of three (3) things –

  • Move away,
  • Move toward, and
  • Move against.

When we move away, we withdraw, hide, silence ourselves and keep secrets. We simply disappear from the relationships in our lives and avoid connection.

When we move toward, we appease and can become the ultimate people pleasers. We become whatever other people want us to be so that we can avoid the risk of disappointing others and feeling the shame that comes with that disappointment.

When we move against, we try to gain power over others by fighting back and lashing out (i.e. trying to use shame to fight shame). We hurt others before they can hurt us further.

We all have used or are using these strategies of disconnection at one time or another. For many of us, we have a “go to” strategy, however all of these strategies move us away from the story that is going on within us. As Dr Brown says – “Shame is about fear, blame and disconnection. Story is about worthiness and embracing the imperfections that bring us courage, compassion and connection.”


Over to You

You may like to reflect on the following questions to develop some insight –

  1. Which strategy of disconnection is your favourite?
  2. In what situations do you use this strategy when you feel shame?

References –

Brown, B. (2007). I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn’t): Making the Journey from “What Will People Think?” to “I Am Enough”. New York, USA: Penguin.

Brown, B. (2010). The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are. USA: Hazelden.

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