“Shame” by Joseph Burgo: Turning It Around

I believe that a shame experience sometimes contains an important lesson about who we are or the person we’d like to become; if we dismiss or resist it, we lose an opportunity to grow. Joseph Burgo

From Publishers Weekly about therapist Joseph Burgo‘s Shame: Free Yourself, Find Joy, and Build True Self-Esteem:

Instead of minimizing feelings of shame and self-hatred, he argues, readers should embrace these emotions. Burgo believes that people can be liberated by finding joy in sharing painful stories with others, setting realistic expectations for personal goals, and acknowledging the aspects of shame that may never change.

As stated by the publisher, “In contrast to the prevailing cultural view of shame as a uniformly toxic influence, Shame is a book that approaches the subject of shame as an entire family of emotions which share a ‘painful awareness of self’.”

Self-esteem, adds the publisher, is not about “non-stop praise and encouragement, but rather depends upon setting and meeting goals, living up to the expectations we hold for ourselves, and finally sharing our joy in achievement with the people who matter most to us. Along the way, listening to and learning from our encounters with shame will go further than affirmations and positive self-talk in helping us to build authentic self-esteem.”

It’s helpful, in fact, when this emotion can be recognized as early as one’s childhood. When such difficult feelings aren’t faced, whether early in life or later on, such outcomes as relationship avoidance, procrastination, alcohol and drug abuse, faulty self-perceptions, and lack of responsibility are just some of the various possibilities that await.

Or we might use certain defenses, such as countershaming. “Burgo writes, ‘On the level of individual psychology, when shame defiance goes hand in hand with efforts to inspire shame in other people, it often reflects a kind of false sense of pride: I feel good about myself because I’m nothing like you’.”

Psychology writer Peg Streep can recommend Burgo’s book “without a single reservation”:

His argument is by the far the most cogent in explaining why the notion of self-esteem being founded in constant praise and lack of criticism is both wrong-headed and ultimately destructive…On every page, but especially in the unique exercises at the end, Shame encourages us again and again to look not just at what shames us but why it does and to face both squarely.

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