Shame Resilience Theory, developed by Dr. Brené Brown, involves connecting with your authentic self and fostering meaningful relationships with others. Moving away from shame requires a move toward empathy.
What is Shame?
To put it simply, shame is the fear of disconnection. Connection is why we as humans are here. Through connection with others, we develop purpose and meaning in our lives. For connection to happen, we must be seen by others. This is the concept of vulnerability.
A person who feels shame believes that they are not good enough. A person with a strong sense of love and belonging believes they are worthy of it. People who possess worthiness have the courage to be imperfect and feel self-compassion. They are willing to let go of who they think they should be to be who they truly are, and they believe that what makes them vulnerable makes them beautiful.
To embrace vulnerability a person must let themself be seen, love with their whole heart even though there is no guarantee, practice gratitude, lean into joy, and believe that they are enough. While many people believe that vulnerability is a weakness, it is not. It is the road to connecting with others.
Shame is the fear of disconnection. Connection is why we as humans are here.
People who display worthiness by showing vulnerability have courage. While sometimes defined as bravery, courage is actually a willingness to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart. This is difficult for many people. Our society has a tendency to attempt to numb emotions through spending money, overeating, becoming addicted to substances, and over-medicating. This can lead to feeling miserable and vulnerable and becomes an endless cycle to avoid these negative feelings.
Many also think that shame and guilt are synonymous. They are related emotions but they are not the same thing. Guilt focuses on behavior and can be expressed as “I did something bad” or “I made a mistake.” Shame focuses on the self, expressed as “I am bad” or “I am a mistake.”
While shame feels the same for men and women it is organized differently by gender. Women feel that they must do everything perfectly and strive to meet unattainable expectations of who they are supposed to be. For men, shame comes from a place of feeling that they must never be perceived as weak.
Shame Resilience Theory explores when we feel shame, how we feel shame, as well as the key elements of shame resilience.
12 Categories of Shame
According to Dr. Brown, there are twelve categories of shame to be aware of.
- Money and work
- Motherhood or Fatherhood
- Appearance and body image
- Mental and physical health
- Surviving trauma
- Being stereotyped/labeled
There are many different types of situations that may cause a person to feel shame. Some people feel shame when they violate a cultural norm or one that is opposed by their religion. Others feel shame due to low self-esteem, or due to having a mental illness because of the stigma our society places on it. Trauma and abuse are also reasons why people feel shame, with childhood sexual abuse leading to shame in adulthood for many people.
Shame is common in situations where a person feels like they are in the spotlight or under a microscope. Those with depression, social anxiety, and low self-esteem are particularly susceptible to feeling shame in these situations. They may feel like their traits are being analyzed by others. Others may feel shame due to blaming themselves for trauma or abuse that they experienced.
Shame Resilience Theory
Shame is a powerful emotion that can have an impact on your mental health. Most people experience shame at one time or another within their relationships, and this is perfectly normal. Because it can lead to social withdrawal, it is important to overcome feelings of shame.
Who is Brené Brown?
Dr. Brené Brown is a researcher in the area of social work who studies shame and vulnerability. She has published several books on these topics including Daring Greatly and I Thought It Was Just Me.
Dr. Brown was the first to express the theory of Shame Resilience in a paper she wrote in 2006. She has given TED talks on both shame and vulnerability.
The Theory of Shame Resilience
According to Brown, shame makes people feel isolated, trapped, and powerless. Shame triggers vary by person but the most common have been listed in the 12 categories of shame. The goal of shame resilience is to help a person experiencing shame to feel the opposite emotions instead. These include connection, empathy, freedom, and power.
It is common for a person who feels shame but does not recognize it to respond by trying to gain power over others, being aggressive, withdrawing, or keeping secrets. Another typical response is to seek approval and belonging.
Developing Shame Resilience
There are ways to become more resilient to shame. Brené Brown outlined four key elements:
- Recognizing, naming, and understanding our shame triggers
- Identifying external factors that led to the feelings of shame
- Connecting with others to receive and offer empathy
- Speaking about our feelings of shame with others
One of the most important components in shame resilience is empathy, the ability to understand and share someone else’s feelings. Empathy and vulnerability can lead to feeling valued and seen by others. While shame isolates, empathy builds connection and compassion for others and for yourself. It is important to remember not just to reach out to others when you feel shame, but also to be there for others when they are experiencing shame, too.