Shame Resilience Theory by Brené Brown

Shame Resilience Theory (SRT) was developed by Dr Brené Brown. Brené wrote about the theory in her book I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn’t): Making the Journey from “What Will People Think?” to “I Am Enough” and has spoken about it several times in her talks, including –

Brené’s first TED Talk – the Power of Vulnerability is the fourth most watched TED talk in the world (although Brené actually hasn’t watched it).


What is the Shame Resilience Theory?

In her book I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn’t): Making the Journey from “What Will People Think?” to “I Am Enough”, Brené discusses shame as a silent epidemic and something everyone experiences. Shame is associated with depression, grief, anxiety, eating disorders, addiction and violence.

According to 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.” (p.29).

The shame resilience theory is a grounded theory and is based on building resilience to shame by connecting with our authentic selves and growing meaningful relationships with other people. Shame resilience involves moving towards empathy (courage, connection and compassion) when we are experiencing shame and away from shame (fear, blame and disconnection).

According to Dr Brown, the four (4) elements of Shame Resilience are –

  • Recognising shame and understanding our triggers (e.g. physical responses like our heart racing or tightness in our chest),
  • Practising critical awareness (i.e. knowing why something exists, how it works, how our society is impacted or impacting on that something and who benefits from it),
  • Reaching out and telling our story (i.e. by reaching out to our support network and sharing our story, we can increase our resilience and create change), and
  • Speaking shame is so important as its survival depends on going undetected (i.e. through secrecy and silence). Subsequently, if we recognise and understand our triggers, practice critical awareness and reach out to others, we can grow our resilience as we practice communicating about our shame with our most-trusted advisors who use their own compassion and courage whilst listening and supporting us.


Common Reactions to Shame

In her research, Brené found that when people don’t recognise their shame and the expectations and messages that trigger shame, we put up shame screens. A shame screen is a defence mechanism that we use to protect ourselves as it triggers our primal fight, flight and freeze response. It means we either –

  • moving against shame by trying to gain control or power over others or being aggressive,
  • move away from shame by withdrawing, hiding, keeping secrets or staying silent, and
  • moving towards shame by seeking approval and belonging.

By recognising our shame screens, we can make alternative choices as shame screens do not work and can cut us off from what we want most in life – authentic connection with ourselves and others (which is why developing empathy is important).


The Power of Empathy

Before we discuss the power of empathy, let’s identify what empathy is –

  • “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.” ~ Google and Oxford Dictionaries
  • “the feeling that you understand and share another person’s experiences and emotions : the ability to share someone else’s feelings” ~ Merriam-Webster
  • “the psychological identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another” ~

In her research Brené found that by developing empathy through practicing shame resilience we can create the things in life that we want the most – to be valued, seen and acknowledged as a worthwhile person.

Simply – shame isolates and separates. Empathy builds connection, courage and compassion. The choice is yours…

If you are ready to reclaim your courage and take the next step towards freedom and opening your heartwhy not join our Toolkit?


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.

Brown, B. (2012). Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. New York, USA: Penguin.



Page Reference –

I have had many people want to reference this page, so here is the correct reference. Thanks in advance for honouring the work on Habits for Wellbeing 🙂

Taylor, J. (2016) Shame Resilience Theory by Brené Brown. [WWW] Available from: [Accessed …….. ]


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