Responses to Shame
December 22, 2014 by
Categories: Acceptance, Personal, Self

I recently received a wonderful gift: The Power of Vulnerability: Teachings on Authenticity, Connection and Courage by Brené Brown. I’ve been listening to it while I’m driving in my car. In the most recent segment that I was listening to, she quoted work done by Lisa Hartling that lists three reactions that we usually fall to when experiencing shame: move away, move toward, and move against.

Move away

In interest of full disclosure, this is my go-to reaction. For those with me here, when we experience shame, we don’t just take a time out from the source, we disappear– completely. Sometimes it’s only from those who are the source of shame, other times it may be from our social support in general. For me, it’s an attempt to avoid experiencing any shameful feelings. Certainly this, and the other reactions, is not the most healthy way to handle shame. By withdrawing from the people who support us, either emotionally or physically, we deny ourselves the opportunity to experience the antidote to shame: empathy and connection.

Move toward

This is the reaction for the people pleasers. In order to avoid shame or in an attempt to resolve the shame we feel, we please those around us. In reality, this is just another way to hide. We put aside our authentic selves by conforming, putting aside our feelings, beliefs, or values to please someone else in order to avoid scorn, criticism or whatever brings up our feelings of shame.

Move against

Occasionally, I’ll find myself in this reaction. When we move against, we come out swinging. Not necessarily physically, but we attack others. For me, this happens when my feelings of shame turn into anger. Usually the objective is to make other people feel shame. Sometimes is the person who is the source of shame, but sometimes it is also toward people who are perceived as being less powerful than us such as employees, group members, children, partners, students, etc.

Handling shame

This is not my first post on shame. Probably won’t be my last either. But in my practice of self-acceptance it is important to be aware of times when I am pushing others away through one of these reactions rather than reaching out to those that I know I can count on to provide connection and empathy. It is so crucial to have others in our lives that provide this in our lives. The only way someone can be an island is by cutting off all connections and living a life in numbness (been there, done that too). Connections make life meaningful.

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