Minding Your Health – Building Resiliency to Shame

This month, we’ll discuss strategies for building resiliency to shame, that feeling of being unworthy of love and connection with others.

We looked last month at the work of Brené Brown, author of Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead and Alan Downs, author of The Velvet Rage: Overcoming the Pain of Growing up Gay in a Straight Man’s World.

To review, Brown and Downs say that shame is a universal human experience. Brown writes of the “Shame 1-2-3s”:
1. We all have it.
2. We’re all afraid to talk about shame.
3. The less we talk about shame, the more control it has over our lives.

Brown and Downs agree that an essential first step in fighting shame is recognizing it when we experience it. We want to stop from being hijacked by the intense emotions that shame generates.

Mindfulness is the practice of being in the present without judgement. Two minutes of deep breathing focusing only on what you feel is a positive first step. It might sound easy, but it can be quite challenging and requires practice.

To start, set a timer for two minutes, close your eyes and take slow, deep breaths. Focus on how you feel as you breathe. If your mind wanders (and it will), simply acknowledge it and redirect your attention to your breathing. Visit Mindfulness for articles on establishing a mindfulness practice. Another option is to search for “mindfulness” in the app stores for your smartphone.

Downs writes: “Feelings in the moment aren’t always representative of what we consistently feel over time.”

It’s OK to experience anger, depression or disappointment. It’s what we do with those feelings that can harm our well-being and damage our relationships with others.

Remember that intense feelings are temporary. Therefore, when you walk into a bar of impossibly beautiful people on a Saturday night and say to yourself, “I don’t belong,” “Everyone’s looking at me,” or “I’m not good enough for anyone,” acknowledge those feelings.

Shame wins when we run from it or try to bury it. By acknowledging it, we bring it out of the shadows into the light where it cannot survive. Furthermore, when the negative self-talk begins, Brown and Downs suggest that we practice self-compassion. Talk to yourself the way you would talk to someone you love and are trying to comfort.

Finally, Brown writes that empathy is the antidote to shame. Empathy is the ability to step into someone else’s world and see things through the other’s eyes.

That feeling of unworthiness is shared by your friends, family, significant others, acquaintances and strangers. Therefore, reach out courageously and acknowledge your own struggle with shame. Invite a friend to watch and discuss one of Brown’s TED talks (the first one is at TED talks), or read Downs’ book The Velvet Rage with your partner.

Although taking the first step is risky, you may be surprised at how it can lead to a more authentic and fulfilling relationship with those closest to you.

Kyle Danner is an organizer for the LGBT-Affirmative Therapists Guild of Greater Kansas City. He received a master’s degree in counseling and guidance from the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

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