Developing Shame Resilience: Part 3

Based on the research of Dr. Brene Brown

The third step to developing shame resilience is the Willingness to reach out to others--even when we are feeling SHAME.

As Dr. Brene Brown states in her book, I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn’t), “We, as humans, are wired for connection. We need it and crave it. But not only any connection, deep and meaningful connection. And that requires courage, vulnerability and reaching out to our connection network.”

When we don’t reach out to others, we allow them AND ourselves to sit alone in our shame, and by doing so we feed shame two of the ingredients it needs to survive: silence and secrecy. Using shame to fight shame doesn’t work. And using shame as a tool to try and change others doesn’t work, either. We can, however, all benefit from shared empathy. Empathy is what helps extinguish shame in its tracks.

We shouldn’t reach out to “fix” or “save” others. We reach out to help and support others by reinforcing their connection network and our own. This helps us increase our resilience by sharing our story, helping others (and ourselves) not feel so alone. When we don’t reach out, we fuel our shame and create isolation by separating and insulating:

  • Insulating: A form of self-protection. We view ourselves as separate or better than others. Especially others that are having a hard time or who are dealing with a stigmatized or downright scary issue, such as addiction, mental health issues, divorce, financial troubles, cancer, etc. We’ve developed language to describe the others--sometimes we refer to them as “those people” or “people like that.” The truth is… we are “those people.” We are one step away from being part of the others.

However, to make any of this happen, we must have a strong connection network. Those people we can go to who aren’t going to judge, criticize or minimize what we are going through; who are going to understand and empathize with us. We must feel safe and be picky with the people we share our most vulnerable parts of ourselves with. Otherwise, if we share with people who don’t deserve to hear our stories, and they meet us with judgement or sympathy, we can create even more shame.

What is the difference between Sympathy and Empathy?

In short, sympathy is feeling sorry for someone vs. actually putting yourself in their shoes, recognize what they are feeling, and sharing in their emotions. Maybe you haven’t been in their situation exactly, but perhaps you can relate to how they are feeling (for example, misunderstood, judged, criticized, etc.) Sympathy is often passive aggressive (i.e. “You poor thing” or “bless your heart”) and can make shame even worse. Empathy is much more vulnerable and requires much more conscious effort.  

How To Practice Empathy to help fight shame

Empathy takes courage and practice. It is the number one thing that gets rid of shame for ourselves and others. It is an amazing skill to have the best friendships and relationships possible. It is better to do this late than never. For example, it’s better to respond empathetically right away, but if you look back at a conversation and realize you weren’t acting empathetically, you can always go back, apologize, and try again. Even if it’s days or weeks later, the potential for strengthening the relationship is still there.

According to Dr. Brene Brown, here are the steps towards empathy:

  • To be able to see the world as others see it.
  • We must be willing to recognize and acknowledge our own lens (perspective) and attempt to see the situation that someone is experiencing through his/her lens.

  • To understand another person’s feelings.
  • In order to do this, we must be in touch with our own feelings and emotions; and, we need to be comfortable in the larger world of emotion and feelings. Get in touch with the feeling they are feeling and think of a time where you also felt that feeling (i.e. judged, misunderstood, labeled, criticized, humiliated, etc.)

  • To communicate your understanding of that person’s feelings.
  • This last step can feel risky and scary. In your own words, let the other person know that you understand what they are going through. You can do this by repeating back what you heard them say (in your own words) or giving them an example of a time where you felt similarly to them.

    Again, I know doing this work is asking a lot. It’s probably not exactly how you want to spend your time on top of work, relationships, family stuff, kids, etc. But If you’re reading this, I am assuming you are a personal development seeker! So I’m going to encourage all of you to join our private Facebook group to gain access to worksheet #3 and more meaningful conversations around shame and these steps to developing resilience.

    Now we would love to hear from you.  

    Do you struggle reaching out to others? Do you feel like you have a strong connection network? Is empathy something you’ve practiced before? Let us know in the comments below.

    Thank you in advance for reading, commenting and sharing with love, compassion and kindness. You help make our cozy corner of the world wide web an awesome place!

    Sending love, healing, and self care,


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