Jun 01

Toxic Shame Vs. Guilt: Lists You Can Use

Toxic shame is the feeling that we are somehow inherently defective, that something is wrong with our being. Guilt is “I made a mistake, I did something wrong.” Shame is “I’m a mistake, something is wrong with me.” At the core of our wounding is the unbearable emotional pain resulting from having internalized the false message that we are not loved because we are personally defective and shameful. Robert Burney

The following articles break down aspects of toxic shame and aspects of guilt. Click on the links below for details.

Signs You Have Shame by Arlin Cuncic, Verywellmind.com

  • Feeling sensitive
  • Feeling unappreciated
  • Uncontrollable blushing
  • Feeling used
  • Feeling rejected
  • Feeling like you have little impact
  • Being worried what others think about you
  • Worrying that you aren’t treated with respect
  • Feeling like others take advantage of you
  • Wanting to have the last word
  • Not sharing your thoughts or feelings because you are afraid to be embarrassed
  • Being afraid to look inappropriate or stupid
  • Being more worried about failure than doing something immoral
  • Being a perfectionist
  • Feeling like an outsider or that you are different or left out
  • Feeling suspicious or like you can’t trust others
  • Not wanting to be the center of attention
  • Being a wallflower or shrinking violet
  • Wanting to shut people out or withdraw
  • Feeling that you can’t be your true self
  • Trying to hide yourself or be inconspicuous
  • Losing your identity
  • Feeling inadequate
  • Feelings of regret
  • Feeling dishonorable

Finally, the behaviors below are examples of things that people do when they feel shame:

  • Looking down instead of looking people in the eye
  • Keeping your head hung low
  • Slumping your shoulders instead of standing up straight
  • Feeling frozen or unable to move
  • Not being able to act spontaneously
  • Stuttering when you try to speak
  • Talking in an overly soft voice
  • Hiding yourself from others
  • Crying if you feel shame or embarrassment

9 Things You Need to Know About Shame by Andrea Brandt, PhD, MFT, Psychology Today

  1. Shame and guilt are different emotions.
  2. Shame has an evolutionary origin.
  3. Shame can begin in childhood.
  4. Shame has warning signs.
  5. There are many types of shame.
  6. Shame can lead to other negative emotions.
  7. Shame can negatively affect your relationships.
  8. Shame can harm your physical health.
  9. There is a cure for shame.

Five Things to Know About Toxic Shame by Hilary Jacobs Hendel, LCSW, Psychology Today

  1. We all have it.
  2. No one wants to talk about shame.
  3. We are not born feeling bad about ourselves. It’s a symptom of our environment.
  4. Shame is excruciatingly painful.
  5. Relief from shame is possible.

10 Things You Didn’t Know About Guilt by Guy Winch, PhD, Psychology Today

  1. Guilt protects our relationships.
  2. We experience 5 hours a week of guilty feelings.
  3. Unresolved guilt is like having a snooze alarm in your head that won’t shut off.
  4. Guilty feelings make it difficult to think straight.
  5. Guilt makes us reluctant to enjoy life.
  6. Guilt can make you self-punish.
  7. Guilt can make you avoid the person you’ve wronged.
  8. Guilt trips make you feel guilty but also resentful.
  9. Guilt-prone people assume they’ve harmed others when they haven’t.
  10. Guilty feelings may make you feel literally heavier and more belabored.

5 Ways to Release Toxic Guilt by Andrea F. Polard, PsyD, Psychology Today

  1. Notice your guilt.
  2. Begin the inquiry.
  3. Tolerate the discomfort.
  4. Ask for forgiveness and/or forgive yourself.
  5. Individuate. [Related to codependency.]

8 Empowering Ways to Stop Feeling Guilty by Melanie Greenberg, PhD, Psychology Today

  1. Look for the evidence.
  2. Be direct and get more information.
  3. Appreciate yourself and all that you do.
  4. Think about how you would see things if the roles were reversed.
  5. Curb the “black and white” thinking.
  6. Look for the emotions underneath the guilt.
  7. Decide how much you’re willing and able to do.
  8. Realize it’s okay to take care of your own needs.
Feb 07

“Daring Greatly” By Brene Brown: Aim For What You Want

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly;…who at best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly. Theodore Roosevelt

One of Brené Brown‘s most recent books is Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead (2012)Her theme is inspired by the above quote from Roosevelt.

States the publisher: “In Daring Greatly, Dr. Brown challenges everything we think we know about vulnerability. Based on twelve years of research, she argues that vulnerability is not weakness, but rather our clearest path to courage, engagement, and meaningful connection.”

What’s Worse Than Being Vulnerable? Brown answered this in “Oprah’s Lifeclass” by describing her perception of what daring greatly is: “I think being vulnerable feels dangerous, and I think it feels scary, and I think it is terrifying. But I don’t think it’s as dangerous, scary, or terrifying as getting to the end of our lives and wondering, what if I would have shown up?”

Some Other Key Quotes

As I look back on what I’ve learned about shame, gender, and worthiness, the greatest lesson is this: If we’re going to find our way out of shame and back to each other, vulnerability is the path and courage is the light. To set down those lists of what we’re supposed to be is brave. To love ourselves and support each other in the process of becoming real is perhaps the greatest single act of daring greatly.

I define vulnerability as uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure. With that definition in mind, let’s think about love. Waking up every day and loving someone who may or may not love us back, whose safety we can’t ensure, who may stay in our lives or may leave without a moment’s notice, who may be loyal to the day they die or betray us tomorrow—that’s vulnerability.

Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.

Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.

Wholeheartedness. There are many tenets of Wholeheartedness, but at its very core is vulnerability and worthiness; facing uncertainty, exposure, and emotional risks, and knowing that I am enough.

Vulnerability is not weakness, and the uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure we face every day are not optional. Our only choice is a question of engagement. Our willingness to own and engage with our vulnerability determines the depth of our courage and the clarity of our purpose; the level to which we protect ourselves from being vulnerable is a measure of our fear and disconnection.

Connection is why we’re here; it is what gives purpose and meaning to our lives. The power that connection holds in our lives was confirmed when the main concern about connection emerged as the fear of disconnection; the fear that something we have done or failed to do, something about who we are or where we come from, has made us unlovable and unworthy of connection.

Worrying about scarcity is our culture’s version of post-traumatic stress. It happens when we’ve been through too much, and rather than coming together to heal (which requires vulnerability) we’re angry and scared and at each other’s throats.

Shame derives its power from being unspeakable.

We judge people in areas where we’re vulnerable to shame, especially picking folks who are doing worse than we’re doing. If I feel good about my parenting, I have no interest in judging other people’s choices. If I feel good about my body, I don’t go around making fun of other people’s weight or appearance. We’re hard on each other because we’re using each other as a launching pad out of our own perceived deficiency.

Raising children who are hopeful and who have the courage to be vulnerable means stepping back and letting them experience disappointment, deal with conflict, learn how to assert themselves, and have the opportunity to fail. If we’re always following our children into the arena, hushing the critics, and assuring their victory, they’ll never learn that they have the ability to dare greatly on their own.

Don’t try to win over the haters; you are not a jackass whisperer.

Numb the dark and you numb the light.

Below Brown speaks with Oprah about some of these issues:

Aug 14

Public Shaming: How NOT to Get Others to Change

At the same time that the serious and thoughtful work of such researchers as Brené Brown has helped us understand the harmful effects of shame, debate continues over whether the purposeful use of public shaming can motivate people to make healthy changes, e.g., to lose weight or recover from an addiction or be a better-behaved child.

Mirroring this issue has been a burgeoning public shaming humor culture in which photos of non-humans committing bad behaviors are posted online. These dogs, cats, bunnies, and even robots often wear signs expressing their various confessions of wrongdoing. Some examples can be found at the following sites:

Turning back to people, the following quote from Brené Brown, in an interview with Mothers Movement, is pertinent to the argument against the shaming method: “Meaningful, healthy change requires us to assess both our strengths and limitations. We change from a place of self-worth, not a place of shame, powerlessness and isolation. Real change requires awareness, insight and thoughtful decision-making – these are rarely present when we are experiencing shame.”

Unfortunately, our culture has long been into shaming, Brown points out. Children especially are often targeted, as for parents and other caretakers “(i)t is both effective and efficient in the short-term.”

She elaborates on how this tendency is then recycled throughout our culture:

…(S)hame is used as a change agent all the time. It’s used in our ‘here and now’ society because you can actually see a swift behavior change when you use shame. The consequences, however, are very serious. Shame promotes change by using fear of rejection, fear of not being accepted and fear of disconnection. Ultimately, shame is very destructive to both the person doing the shaming and the person being shamed. When you talk to 200 women about shame (and now some men as well), you quickly learn how many of our deepest scars are from being shamed and many of our most profound regrets can be traced back to experiences when we shamed others.

An example of shaming gone wrong, as reported in The Huffington Post, is seen in the recent research of psychologist Angelina Sutin et al. showing that it actually hinders weight loss—in fact, victims of weight discrimination were significantly more likely to become obese.

In a Psychology Today blog post, noted addictions expert Dr. Stanton Peele also warns against public shaming. He states that the too common practice of rehab shaming, or “hectoring addicts and alcoholics for their bad behavior,” also fails.

Peele refers to neuroscience journalist Maia Szalavitzwhose article in Time, “Being Ashamed of Drinking Prompts Relapse, Not Recovery,” cites new research results that “add to a body of literature suggesting that widely used shaming and humiliating methods of treating alcohol and other drug problems — such as those seen on shows like Celebrity Rehab — are not only ineffective but also may be counterproductive.”

In fact, we just wind up back where we started:

Why doesn’t shame change or deter addictive behavior? Shame is not only an effect of addiction but also can be a key reason why some people turn to drink or other drugs in the first place. Research suggests that people who feel particularly high levels of shame are at increased risk not just for addictions but also for other conditions that can worsen addictions, like depression…

That can set up a vicious cycle: if you drink to escape shame and then embarrass yourself while drinking, you wind up with even more reasons to drink — and to be ashamed of yourself.

Have you ever been shamed into changing your bad habits or behavior? How’d it work out?

Oct 05

Vulnerability and Shame: Brene Brown Enlightens Us

More than one person has told me about Brené Brown and her lessons on vulnerability and shame. Finally I’ve watched her two TED talks, “The Power of Vulnerability” and “Listening to Shame,” which have resonated with so many.

Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, has been deep into studying vulnerability, courage, authenticity, and shame for 12 years. She bravely admits to the world via TED that internal conflicts triggered in the midst of her research led her to seek therapy.

In a TED blog post, Brown states that 2010 was her “year of the vulnerability talk” and 2011 her “year of walking the talk,” acknowledging that it’s harder to enact what she believes about this topic than to talk about it.

Mary Elizabeth Williams writes in a recent Salon article about Dr. Brown’s popularity, how she copes with it, and her message:

To date, Brown’s rousing pleas for humanity to move from a culture of shame, scarcity and numbness toward a more authentic, compassionate and ‘wholehearted’ approach have been viewed over 5 million times on YouTube. But not by Brown herself, who confesses, ‘It still makes me feel really uncomfortable.’

In other words, she gets it. She knows how hard it is for us to put down our emotional armor, how great the fear of failure and criticism — from both within and without – can be. Yet she plunges on, persuasively making the case that a bolder, braver way of living isn’t just happier and more fulfilling. She thinks it’s a key component of rising above the tide of debt, addiction and what Brown repeatedly refers to as the painful curse of ‘disengagement.’

Brown’s newest book just came out. It’s called Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead,  and it “argues that vulnerability is not weakness, but rather our clearest path to courage, engagement, and meaningful connection.”

Some quotes from the book on vulnerability and shame, courtesy of a recent TED blog post:

“I define vulnerability as uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure. With that definition in mind, let’s think about love. Waking up every day and loving someone who may or may not love us back, whose safety we can’t ensure, who may stay in our lives or may leave without a moment’s notice, who may be loyal to the day they die or betray us tomorrow — that’s vulnerability.”

“We judge people in areas where we’re vulnerable to shame, especially picking folks who are doing worse than we’re doing. If I feel good about my parenting, I have no interest in judging other people’s choices. If I feel good about my body, I don’t go around making fun of other people’s weight or appearance. We’re hard on each other because we’re using each other as a launching pad out of our own perceived deficiency.”

“Worrying about scarcity is our culture’s version of post-traumatic stress. It happens when you’ve been through too much, and rather than coming together to heal (which requires vulnerability), we’re angry and scared and at each other’s throats.”

Publishers Weekly says of Daring Greatly: “…(T)he core of her message is understanding the difference between guilt and shame, and developing ‘shame resistance.’ Brown’s theories—complete with personal and not always flattering examples from her own life—will draw readers in and have them considering what steps they would dare to take if shame and fear were not present.”

Brown was asked in a TED interviewWhat’s the greatest lesson you have learned in your own life? “When you get to a place where you understand that love and belonging, your worthiness, is a birthright and not something you have to earn, anything is possible.”