Brene Brown, a world-renown researcher who has dedicated her career to studying shame, published her book "I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn't)" in 2007. Her primary focus in the book is detailing the findings of her research pertaining to women, understanding shame, and building resilience. Her findings were comprised of the interviews of over three hundred women of various ages, races, ethnicities, and life situations.

Her interest in building a career centered around researching shame originated from a single sentence:

'You cannot shame or belittle people into changing their behaviors.'

Brown recognized that we socially use shame to change people and that it is becoming an increasingly problematic element of our culture.

She describes it as a silent epidemic because it's a serious social problem, yet people are unable or unwilling to openly discuss it. This is the result of being socialized not to regardless of the negative effect of epidemic proportions it has on all of us.

After interviewing hundreds of women, Brown came to define shame as:

"the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of acceptance and belonging."

Her research allowed her to understand and form strategies to build resilience. Some of her initial findings were that the by-products of shame were fear, blame, and disconnection. However, its most potent antidote was empathy, the foundation of the critical components of resilience: courage, compassion, and connection.

She describes empathy as a practice and a skill that requires people to see the world as others see it, to be nonjudgmental, to understand the feelings of others, and to communicate that understanding of the person's feelings.

As Brown delved deeper into her research she identified four shared elements of women with high levels of resilience:

  • The ability to recognize and understand their shame triggers.
  • High levels of critical awareness about their shame web.
  • The willingness to reach out to others.
  • The ability to speak shame.

Recognizing shame and triggers

Women who lacked the resilience to shame turned to the shame screens of moving away - withdrawing, silencing themselves, and secret keeping, moving toward - appeasing and pleasing, and moving against shame by using shame to fight shame.

To establish a solid foundation of resilience, you must be aware of your symptoms of shame and understand the unwanted identities that make you vulnerable to and trigger shame.

Practicing critical awareness

Building critical awareness increases resilience by illuminating the link between our personal experiences and larger social systems.

This reduces women's likelihood of getting caught in the shame web, which Brown defines as the social-community expectations of who, what, and how we should be. Thought processes that result in getting caught up in the shame web are individualizing, or believing you're the only one, pathologizing, or believing something's wrong with you, and reinforcing, or believing that you should be ashamed. You can avoid getting stuck in the shame web by contextualizing, seeing the bigger picture, normalizing, realizing you're not the only one, and demystifying, sharing what you know with others.

Reaching out

Shame thrives in secrecy. Build connection networks that will provide you with the empathy, connection, and power necessary to break free from the shame web when you do find yourself stuck.

Simply reaching out will help you and others by reinforcing their connection network and your own. Avoid separating or insulating yourself and share your story and create change instead.

Speaking shame

If shame thrives in secrecy, it breeds in silence. Learn how to speak shame by identifying what you are feeling and why. Don't shut down or act out. Simply express how you feel and ask for what you need.

Developing resilience takes time and dedicated practice, but it can be done. Implement the four strategies, which are the core elements of shame resilience, into your daily life. Don't allow your basic human needs of connection and belonging to be denied to you as a result of shame.

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