Developing Shame Resilience: Part Two

Hey personal development seekers!

Hopefully you’ve been following this self-care topic on discussing body image and shame that started with our Self Care Club event earlier this month: a private screening of the movie I Feel Pretty. Ever since, we’ve been posting on our blog and private Facebook group about developing shame resilience according to the research of Dr. Brene Brown.

This topic is SO important. And arguably a more important life skill than anything we ever learned / could ever learn in school or at work.

Our previous blog post on Recognizing Shame and Understanding Your Triggers is the first step; please take a moment to re-cap with common triggers.

The 12 categories that women struggle the most with feelings of shame are:

  • appearance and body image
  • motherhood
  • family
  • parenting
  • money and work
  • mental and physical health
  • sex / sexuality
  • aging
  • religion
  • being stereotyped and labeled
  • speaking out
  • surviving trauma

If we aren’t aware of our shame triggers then we end up using Shame Screens. These are the unpredictable and sometimes unconscious ways we react in response to shame. In order to deal with shame, some of us: Move away by withdrawing, hiding, silencing ourselves, and keeping secrets; Some of us move toward by seeking to appease and please; And, some of us move against by trying to gain power over others, being aggressive and using shame to fight shame.

Now that you’ve started recognizing shame and its impact, you can move onto the second step toward developing shame resilience:

Step 2. Developing High levels of Critical Awareness about our shame web. (see “shame web” handout in our private Facebook group)

As Dr. Brown conveys, shame works like the zoom lens on a camera. When we are feeling shame, the camera is zoomed in tight and all we see is our flawed selves, alone and struggling. We think to ourselves, “I’m the only one. Something is wrong with me. I am alone.”

When we zoom out, we start to see a completely different picture. We see many people in the same struggle. Rather than thinking, “I’m the only one,” we start thinking, “I can’t believe it! You too? I’m normal? I thought it was just me!” Once we start to see the big picture, we are better able to reality-check our shame triggers and the social-community expectations that fuel shame.

Let’s start with the issue of Critical Awareness with appearance and body image; the most universal shame trigger for women (taken from Brene Brown’s first book: I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn’t). 

What are the social-community expectations around appearance?

Appearance includes everything from hair, skin, makeup, weight, clothing, shoes and nails to attitude, confidence, age and wealth. Other community-specific expectations could include hair texture, hair length, skin color, face and body hair, teeth, looking “done-up,” not looking “done-up,” clothing and jewelry.

Why do these expectations exist?

To keep us spending our valuable resources--money, time and energy--on trying to meet some ideal that is not achievable. Think about this: Americans spend more each year on beauty than we do on education.

How do these expectations work?

They are everything we see and everything we don’t see. If you read fashion magazines or watch TV, you know what you are “supposed to” look like and how you are “supposed to” dress and act. If you look hard enough you also see everything that’s missing--the images of real people. 

What is the impact of these expectations?

    • About 80 million Americans are obese.
    • Approximately 7 million girls and women suffer from an eating disorder.
    • Up to 19 percent of college-aged women are bulimic.
    • Eating disorders are the third most common chronic illness among females.
    • The latest surveys show very young girls are going on diets because they think they are fat and unattractive. In one American survey, 81 percent of ten-year-old girls had already dieted at least once.
    • A research survey found that the single largest group of high-school students considering or attempting suicide are girls who feel they are overweight.
    • 25 years ago, top models and beauty queens weighed only 8% less than the average woman; now they weigh 23 percent less. The current media ideal for women is achievable by less than five percent of the female population--and that’s just in terms of weight and size.
    • Among women over 18 looking at themselves in the mirror, research indicates that at least 80 percent are unhappy with what they see. Many will not even be seeing an accurate reflection. Most of us have heard that people with anorexia see themselves as larger than they actually are, but some recent research indicates that this kind of distorted body image is by no means confined to those suffering from eating disorders; in some studies, up to 80 percent of women overestimated their size. Increasing numbers of women with no weight problems or clinical psychological disorders look at themselves in the mirror and see ugliness and fat.
    • According to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, since 1997, there has been a 465 percent increase in the total number of cosmetic procedures.
    • Women had nearly 10.7 million cosmetic procedures--90 percent of the total. The number of cosmetic procedures for women has increased 49 percent since 2003.
    • The top five surgical procedures for women were liposuction, breast augmentation, eyelid surgery, tummy tuck and facelift.
    • Americans spent just under $12.5 billion on cosmetic procedures in 2004

Who benefits from these expectations?

    • The $38 billion hair industry.
    • The $33 billion diet industry.
    • The $24 billion skincare industry.
    • The $18 billion makeup industry.
    • The $15 billion perfume industry.
    • The $13 billion cosmetic surgery industry.

“That’s a whole bunch of folks depending on us to see and believe that we aren’t good enough,” says Brene. “If we DON’T believe that we’re too fat, ugly, and old, then they don’t sell their products. If they don’t sell their products, they don’t pay their bills. The pressure is on!”

When we ask and answer these big-picture questions, we begin to develop critical awareness. The next step is learning how to use all of this information to reality-check our own shame triggers. We do that by looking at our shame triggers and asking these six reality-check questions:

  1. How realistic are my expectations?
  2. Can I be all these things all of the time?
  3. Do the expectations conflict with each other?
  4. Am I describing who I want to be or who others want me to be?
  5. If someone perceives me as having these unwanted identities, what will happen?
  6. Can I control how others perceive me? How do I try?

The Importance of “Zooming Out”

When we zoom out we don’t just focus on ourselves and our own pain. We know what we’re up against--it’s all women versus a huge beauty industry that’s very effective at making us feel bad about ourselves. Practicing critical awareness means linking our personal experiences to what we learn from the questions and answers. When we do this, we move toward resilience by learning how to:

  • Contextualize (I see the big picture);
  • Normalize (I’m not the only one); and
  • Demystify (I’ll share what I know with others).
  • Individualizing (I am the only one);
  • Pathologizing (something is wrong with me); and
  • Reinforcing (I should be ashamed).

I know...it’s all easier said than done! But it’s all SO important!! Not just for ourselves, but for our partner, family and children to do this work. I’m going to encourage all of you to join our private Facebook group to gain access to worksheet #2 and more meaningful conversations around shame and these steps to developing resilience.

Now we would love to hear from you.  

Now that you’ve learned more about step 2 to developing shame resilience, what do you think? Have you used critical awareness 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,



1. Brown, Brene, I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn't), New York: Penguin Random House LLC, 2007, Print.

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