Nothing has transformed my life more than realizing that it’s a waste of time to evaluate my worthiness by weighing the reaction of the people in the stands. The people who love me and will be there regardless of the outcome are within arm’s reach. They weren’t in the bleachers at all. They were with me in the arena. Fighting for me and with me. This realization changed everything.
– Brene Brown, Daring Greatly
Building on my last post about understanding, living and working with shame, I thought it might be helpful to share some more of my personal story.
I’d never actively thought about shame before If I’m honest, it was for a long time a word I’d rather not mention or associate myself with but I was acutely aware that I experienced it often and those feelings and emotions directly affected my actions and responses.
It wasn’t until, supported through work, that I started an intensive learning journey and as a result of that my curiosity directed me to Dr Brene Brown.Through her work (books, audio, video etc) I found a way to build an understanding. An understanding that allowed me to create a new awareness of what was happening to me in my life and my work.
The first and most important part of my understanding was to get clarity on the difference between shame and guilt. In its most simple terms how I now understand the difference is that shame is a focus on self and guilt is a focus on behaviour. For example If i hurt your feelings, guilt would make me feel that my behaviour was wrong whereas shame would make me feel that I was wrong.
That realisation and clarity profoundly helped me process a range of emotions and situations in and outside of work. It particularly helped me develop and grow more compassion for leaders who I had previously believed were bad leaders making bad choices (essentially shaming them), however this new frame allowed me to accept that those leaders are doing the best they can with the knowledge and understanding they have and my role as an interventionist is to help make things visible in ways that cause a sense of guilt or cognitive dissonance which would then drive a behavioural change in that leader.
So what I found was that I used to think that judging leaders was ok, I now know that developing compassion and understanding shame and guilt I fundamentally believe that all leaders (in fact anyone) has the capacity and capability to change their behaviour. To do otherwise would be to give up on them completely and that didn’t feel very compassionate…
I want to say for anyone who might be reading this, that I am ok. I really am. I’m happy, in fact very happy and peaceful with the imperfect person I am today and that has taken some time and yes I wobble a lot but I’m more consciously aware of what is happening so am now able to talk to the people I trust to get support and unpack situations around shame in ways that are productive and help me grow as opposed to forcing me to feel trapped, alone, fearful and inferior.
I also want to say that the journey I’m on was not a reaction to a particular situation but a desire and internal commitment to grow, develop and learn more about myself so that I can consistently show and be more compassionate, understand how to hold my integrity and let go so that I may find humility.
I’m privileged to be able to go on this journey and present myself as a whole person. The developmental journey within my role as an interventionist has been an incredible one and it allows me to understand how I can support others too.
To be in a position today where I can openly talk about shame with a supportive group around me has been as a result of a number of factors and practices which you may find helpful to know and understand.
In listening and reading Dr Brene Brown work and her story, she talks about strategies and tactics to help develop and cultivate shame resilience – from what I have learnt so far, my current understanding is that the purpose of developing shame resilience practice is to help people who feel shame, feel empathy and connection instead. There are four components to shame resilience practice, which I will start to explain below.
- Recognise, note and acknowledge the causes/triggers of shame. This is about learning the physiological signs, mental signs – they are often the same as trauma, high stress. For example one of my signs is my body tingles and I feel sweaty…I’d been developing a practice of noting for over a year now since I started a mindfulness practice through the Headspace app. So further expanding that practice to include and recognise the causes and triggers of shame took a little while and is still developing but was not a new practice to me. I’ve found that noting as a practice is incredibly powerful to help me work towards a more still mind and to develop more awareness so I can be more present.
- Practicing critical awareness. This is about reality-checking the story you tell yourself and the expectations that arise as a result. What external factors are influencing this, are they realistic? Is this the version of yourself you want to present as your authentic self?
- Reaching out and telling our story. This is about connecting and experiencing empathy. For me this has been the most powerful element and took a while to achieve as I found that you need to find a trusted group of people who have earnt the right to hear your story in order to support you without judgement
- Speaking and naming shame. Dr Brene Brown states that shames requires 3 things grow exponentially – secrecy, silence and judgement. Shame can not survive if spoken and treated with empathy. Therefore if we recognise, note and acknowledge shame, practice critical awareness and reach out and share our story, we can grow our resilience as we practice.
This has been and continues to be an ongoing journey for me, one that helps me and reaffirms to me that I am worthy.