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Building Your Resilience to Shame

3. Reaching Out.

According to Brown, “…reaching out is the single most powerful act of resilience.” She says that:

“Regardless of who we are, how we were raised or what we believe, all of us fight hidden, silent battles against not being good enough, not having enough and not belonging enough. When we find the courage to share our experiences and the compassion to hear others tell their stories, we force shame out of hiding, and end the silence.”

Reaching out is as simple as telling someone that they’re not alone in their feelings and experiences. For instance, one woman Brown interviewed talked about the shame she felt about her family. Her dad’s wife is younger than she is and her mom’s boyfriend was married six times. When she’s around people who pretend to have perfect families, she finds this especially tough, because she’s judged for her family’s choices.

She uses her shame to empathize and reach out to others. If someone else reveals something weird about their family and others judge them, she chimes in and starts talking about her family. “If we all told the truth, no one would feel like they were the only one with a screwed-up family. I try to help people in that situation because I’ve been there — it’s really lonely,” she told Brown.

Reaching out also means creating change with the six Ps, as Brown calls them:

  • Personal: your interactions with family, friends and co-workers.
  • Pens: writing a letter to organizational leaders and legislators.
  • Polls: getting educated about leaders and the issues, and voting.
  • Participation: joining organizations that support your issues.
  • Purchases: not buying from a company that doesn’t share your values.
  • Protests: a few people standing up for what they believe in, such as attending a school board meeting.

Brown also discusses several barriers to reaching out. One of the obstacles is that we tend to view some people as “those other people.” We judge these people and think we’re so much better, and, in turn, we rarely reach out.

Brown’s mother was someone who always reached out to others, even when they were the center of gossip and rumors. Her words about reaching out to people in a crisis are especially powerful: “You do it because that’s the person you want to be. You do it because that could have been me and one day it could just as easily be you.”  

4. Speaking Shame.

Trying to articulate when you feel shame is a difficult thing to do, especially when you’re too upset, frustrated, taken aback or angry to truly express how you feel. But “Speaking shame allows us to tell others how we feel and to ask for what we need,” Brown writes. She gives several examples of how to respond to others when we experience shame.

“Every time I go home to visit my mom, the first thing she says to me is, ‘My God, you’re still fat!” and the last thing she says when I walk out the door is ‘Hopefully you can lose some weight.’”

[You might respond with] “I feel so ashamed when you say hurtful things about my weight. It’s so painful for me. It’s like all you care about is how I look. If you’re trying to make me feel bad so I’ll change, that doesn’t work. It makes me feel worse about myself and our relationship. You really hurt me when you do that.”

Here’s another example:

“When I told my friends about my miscarriage, they completely invalidated my feelings. They said things like ‘At least you know you can get pregnant’ or ‘At least you weren’t too far along.’”

[You might respond with] “I feel really sad and lonely about my miscarriage. I know women experience that in different ways, but for me, it is a big deal. I need you to listen to how I’m feeling. It’s not helpful when you try to make it better. I just need to talk about it with people who care about me.”

Be sure to check out Brené Brown’s work at her website. She also writes an excellent blog called Ordinary Courage.

Building Your Resilience to Shame

Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S.

Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S. is an Associate Editor and regular contributor at Psych Central. Her Master's degree is in clinical psychology from Texas A&M University. In addition to writing about mental disorders, she blogs regularly about body and self-image issues on her Psych Central blog, Weightless.

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APA Reference
Tartakovsky, M. (2018). Building Your Resilience to Shame. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 20, 2019, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/building-your-resilience-to-shame/
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych Central.com. All rights reserved.