When we are in shame, we don’t see the big picture; we don’t accurately think about our strengths and limitations. We just feel alone, exposed and deeply flawed. ~ Brené Brown
Do you tend to feel more guilt or shame when you feel you have done something wrong?
Brené Brown’s book, I Thought It Was Just Me talks about shame and how it affects our lives. I found her section about addiction particularly interesting.
We all feel shame at some point in our lives. As individuals we have a tendency to respond with either shame or guilt in any given situation. It makes us feel humiliated and uncomfortable because of something we did wrong. We lose our self-respect. We may feel mortified and embarrassed and we may want to pull back and just be alone.
Addiction and shame go hand in hand. It is hard to understand where one starts and the other ends. Addiction leaves us feeling powerless, isolated and unworthy whether we are the addicted person or the family member. There is a strong sense of secrecy and silence about addiction. It is something that is easier to hide and just not talk about.
We all experience shame. It is an absolutely universal emotion. ~ Brené Brown
Children can begin to feel one emotion over the other at an early age. Family influence plays a major role in how a child views himself. Shaming or putting down someone does not change their behavior. A child who feels shame may start to act out or shut down as shame becomes part of their nature. If a child is repeatedly humiliated by someone they look up to, it can often turn into shame. For those of us still raising children, letting your child know that they are essentially a good person, but their action is not acceptable or appropriate gives a child a healthy outlook, rather than a lifetime of struggle. Most of us are grateful for parents that taught us that being open and receptive to how the world looks to others, for that helps us avoid feelings of shame.
When we feel guilt, we tell ourselves “I did something bad.” Guilt is about our behavior and we focus on the behavior in question. For example, if we missed work because we stayed out late drinking, we may think about the fact that we could lose our job. We would problem solve, make the correction of being more responsible and move on.
Shame is “I am bad.” When we feel shame, it is about who we are, and we tell ourselves that we are a bad person because of what we’ve done. In the same example, if we missed work because of a night of drinking, we become overwhelmed, are unable to problem solve and therefore cannot make plans to do things differently. We become stuck, disconnected and unable to move forward. We may then repeat the behavior to relieve our shame.
Shame forces us to put so much value on what other people think that we lose ourselves in the process of trying to meet everyone else’s expectations. We think of ourselves as defective. We feel flawed and unworthy of acceptance or belonging.
Shame is like a prison. But a prison that you deserved to be in because something is wrong with you. ~ Brené Brown
People that are more prone to feel shame rather than guilt have a higher risk for addiction. Then, when we are addicted, we feel shame about our addiction. It is a vicious cycle, and one that is tough to change, but not impossible. As we know there are many people who have recovered from addiction and gone on to live healthy, rewarding lives.
I consider my journey in recovery to be one of the greatest gifts of my life. ~ Brené Brown
Three to four family members are often negatively affected by the addiction of a family member. They believe it is up to them to keep the family running smoothly, which may make matters worse. The resulting family behavior of trying to make everything better, may be as harmful as the original problem of addiction the family was trying to correct. That’s why it is important to seek outside help, such as a therapist, a recovery center or a twelve-step group, when we or a family member is in the midst of addiction.
People who tend to feel the emotion of shame can change and learn the healthier emotion guilt. Here are four ways to become more shame resistant.
Courage: There is no more powerful relationship than the one that exists between fear and shame. Shame leads to fear and fear leads to shame. When we fear disconnection, it causes us to be afraid of many things. It takes courage to tell our addiction story, and all that we have gone through, with others. When we do, it brings us closer to letting go of our shame and reconnecting with other people.
Connection: We heal through our connections with others. Involving ourselves with others in a similar situation such as addiction, allows us to support each other and learn from other’s experiences. With connection we develop a social network and we gain power when we come across others in the same situation. We move from being disconnected to being connected to others.
Compassion: This is necessary part of feeling empathy. We are willing to hear someone else’s pain. We don’t have to be born compassionate. We can learn and be committed to the idea of being understanding and loving to others. We need to be willing to practice listening and understanding other’s painful stories. We can feel compassion for someone else’s story if we have accepted our story with all it’s flaws. Compassion is not about healing the other person, compassion is about two similar people listening to each other.
Empathy: Responding to others in a meaningful and caring way is the strongest remedy forshame. Being empathetic allows us to use our own experiences to connect with a story that someone is sharing with us, and to be able to see, hear and feel another’s situation. When we understand, share the feelings of others, or put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, we connect on a deeper level. People who are able to resist feeling shame can both give and receive empathy.
The bottom line is that empathy is essential for building meaningful and trusting relationships which is something we all want and need. ~ Brené Brown