The Darkness of Shame


Shame, we all know this feeling.  It is a feeling that keeps us in the shadows and isolated from others.  Often shame prevents us from doing what is best and holds us back from getting the help that we need.  You may even be reading this blog post debating whether or not to go to therapy or treatment.  Our mind chatters away thinking thoughts of worry, “what will others think of me or what will happen if so-and-so finds out?” Shame can be crippling, painful, and lonely; however, it can be escaped.  Dr. Brene Brown, famous author and professor at the University of Houston, is the shame guru.  She has been on talk shows such as Oprah, authored multiple #1 New York Times best seller books, and published many scholarly articles regarding shame and how to be resilient.   

Shame vs. Guilt


Dr. Brene explains that there is a difference to shame and guilt.  With shame we absorb it as part of our identity, who I am, “I am a loser, I am a bad father, I am stupid.”  Guilt on the other hand, is a result of our behavior, what I did, “I lost the game, I forgot my son’s birthday, I did not study for my exam.”  Rather than the debilitating and paralyzing effects of shame, guilt can be adaptive and motivate us to change.  Focusing on behaviors and disconnecting these behaviors from maladaptive identities can help us move away from shame towards something productive.


The Antidote to Shame


According to Dr. Brene Brown, EMPATHY is the antidote to shame.  In her book, “I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn't): Telling the Truth About Perfectionism, Inadequacy, and Power,” Brown says, “Empathy creates a hostile environment for shame -- it can’t survive.”  


Within social media there is a battle between shaming and fighting against shaming.  We see the phenomenon of “mom shaming,” “body shaming”, “race shaming”, “religion shaming”, etc.  There is, however, a power when the community comes together and says, “I’ve been there too.”  More and more, on social media, we see groups of support forming, posts about accepting our bodies, and individuals posting realistic pictures of themselves.  There are often movements on social media to bring awareness to a cause or an issue.  Recently there was a “Me Too” movement to bring light and awareness to the issue of sexual abuse.  Many on Facebook posted “Me Too” if they were survivors of sexual abuse.  This simple act of speaking out took great courage, and many were able to find strength, empathy, and a realization that they really were not alone.  


With empathy and support from others we can find courage, acceptance, and resilience.  As unnatural as it may seem to reach out, speak out, and find out when we are feeling shame, it is a way to discover empathy.  When we connect with healthy relationships and nurturing individuals or groups of people, we can expel the destructive feeling of shame.  




Brown, B. (2006). Shame resilience theory: A grounded theory study on women and shame.  

Families in Society: The Journal of Contemporary Social Services, 87(1), 43-52.



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