Updated: Oct 8, 2022
“Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of acceptance and belonging… Shame creates feelings of fear, blame, and disconnect.” -Dr. Brené Brown
Shame is a universal emotion, we may all experience it at many points during our lives, no matter where we come from. It is a powerful emotion that can cause great distress when not addressed. The window of tolerance and ways of dealing with feelings of shame are as varied as there are individuals, each of us will experience and manage such feelings in different ways – and possibly differently in each situational context.
It can trigger our defense system, which has three main ways of dealing with threats: fight, flight, or freeze. In just milliseconds, we may find ourselves responding with anger, secrecy, trying to be invisible, or seeking others’ approval in unauthentic ways. Feelings of shame may deprive us of developing and maintaining authentic connections with ourselves and others; plus, when it is continually present, it can be exhausting to always have your defenses up fighting it off, running from it, or feeling debilitated or imprisoned by its presence.
In her research, Dr. Brené Brown found that shame resilience practice helps develop self-compassion and helps us feel valued, seen, and acknowledged. As part of the human experience, we cannot get rid of shame but we can mediate its outcomes by practicing the four elements of shame resilience. In this context, empathy is seen as the antithesis to shame, helping us build connection, courage, and compassion.
The 4 Elements of Shame Resilience
1. Recognizing shame and understanding its triggers.
2. Practicing critical awareness
3. Reaching out
4. Speaking shame
Elements of self-compassion
1. Self-kindness vs self-judgment.
Warm understanding when we fail and recognition as a learning opportunity, not
ignoring pain or suffering, no criticizing.
2. Common Humanity vs Isolation
Suffering and personal inadequacy are part of the human experience
3. Mindfulness vs Over-identification
Non-judgmental, recognize feelings as they are without trying to deny or suppress
them but also not be “over-identified” with thoughts and feelings and get caught
and swept away by negative reactivity.
Note that when you start this practice, you may experience your emotions more deeply. In the context of the therapeutic relationship, a safe space to ‘feel your feels’ is created. A therapist serves as a companion through the process of exploring such feelings, bringing them and their triggers to light, as well as learning about the defenses you tend to employ when they appear. Therapists, by showing compassion to their clients, help them practice and internalize self-compassionate practices. If you’d like to start practicing self-compassion today, Dr. Kristin Neff – co-founder of the Center for Mindful Self-Compassion- has a list of guided and self-guided self-compassion exercises: click here.
Arnink, C. L. (2020). "A Quantitative Evaluation of Shame Resilience Theory." Inquiries Journal, 12(11). Retrieved from http://www.inquiriesjournal.com/a?id=1839
Taylo, J. (2016) Shame Resilience Theory by Brené Brown. Web. https://www.habitsforwellbeing.com/shame-resilience-theory
Neff, K. (2022) Self-compassion. Web. https://self-compassion.org/
Abby Maher earned her Master's Degree from Northwestern University where she specialized in working with the LGBTQIA+ population. Besides her clinical work, she is an active volunteer with The Trevor Project, The Human Rights Campaign, and also belongs to the Florida Association of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Issues in Counseling (FALGBTIC).
Thaina Cordero is a Certified Sexologist and Care Coordinator at Cypress Wellness Center. She has an MS in Educational Psychology, is a trauma-informed yoga teacher, and doctoral student of Clinical Sexology at Modern Sex Therapy Institute. She has completed Levels 1 and 2 of Clinical Foundations in Gottman Method Couples Therapy. She helps individuals and couples explore their sexual expression, needs, fantasies, preferences, curiosities, and difficulties as they create more pleasurable, satisfying, and fulfilling sex life and relationships. Click here to request an appointment.