Shame

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When I first saw the above “quote,” I immediately thought of my husband. He was the one denying his real story and acting out and rationalizing and compartmentalizing. Denial was his best friend.

I do believe he can embrace his own story, every last little sordid detail of it, the good, the bad, the ugly. I believe he can, and will, not only write a brave new ending, he will live it.

That being said, I had no idea who Brené Brown was or whether this quote was legitimate or if this person ever even said something remotely similar to it. You know what they say about quotes on the internet. I thought before I put one of her “quotes” up on my blog, I should research her at least a little. The last time I posted something about a well know someone I really didn’t know much about (although I was just posting the video on it’s own merits with a bunch of disclaimers), I felt strange afterwards. Like somehow commenters had me feeling like I was negligent for posting something by someone I had not thoroughly researched and then decided whether I felt like every concept she had ever talked or written about was valid or worthwhile to me, much less to every other person on the planet. My overwhelming feeling after this was confusion. Honestly, I am not a researcher, and I am not that sophisticated, and I do not care that much about other people’s “opinions.” Just because someone says something, does not necessarily make it true or even good advice. We all get to make choices for ourselves. I am pretty simple, if a quote speaks to me, that’s it. That is enough for me regardless of who wrote it, or when. It’s like music. I listen to it and I feel something regardless of what the person who wrote the lyrics was thinking or feeling. I do appreciate the fact that others are much more educated than I and they feel the need to do a lot of research. I did this in school and learned a lot about writing research papers, I did not necessarily learn a lot about life. I learned about life from living it. My husband loves research. Me, personally, I use my gut and I try not to take what others say too seriously. It would be tough to get me into a cult without heavy drugs. I’m generally just not buying. Sometimes I listen to the words of others and they fit into my life, other words have no place with me.

I googled Brené Brown and chose one of her TED Talks, “The Power of Vulnerability.” I got through about 6 minutes of the 20 minute talk and shut it off. She had some lovely things to say, many of them seemed totally valid, especially when thinking about my husband, or someone who has lived with the kind of shame he has, but once she defined shame, I was done. Here is what she said (somewhat paraphrased),

Shame is the fear of disconnection. Is there something about me that if other people know it or see it that I won’t be worthy of connection?

Okay, that seems right for those feeling shame… But then, she went on to say,

Shame is universal. We all have it. The only people that don’t experience shame have no capacity for human empathy or compassion.

WTF? Excuse me. Where did we go off the rails here? I replayed that part of the talk a couple times. All of the sudden I was confused. I have actually written quite a bit about shame on this blog. This is my blog. I have my own definition of shame and it is this,

Shame is a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior.

Basically, Shame = I AM BAD. I have said how much I think the emotion of shame is a horrible waste of time. Shame just makes you feel bad about yourself. It is not helpful, useful or healing.

To me, I have had feelings of guilt, Guilt = I HAVE DONE SOMETHING BAD. I have done something I wished I hadn’t, but that does not make me a bad person, just a person who has done something I regret. I will learn from my mistake and do better next time.

I see a big huge difference between these two emotions. One is a useless degrading emotion, and one helps you acknowledge your wrongdoing. Ms. Brown would have me believe that because I do not want to feel that I am a bad person that I lack human empathy and compassion. I AM LITERALLY BLOWN AWAY and not in a good way. I guess she and I will just have to agree to disagree.

I pulled this from Wikipedia,

Psychoanalyst Helen B. Lewis argued that, “The experience of shame is directly about the self, which is the focus of evaluation. In guilt, the self is not the central object of negative evaluation, but rather the thing done is the focus.”[7] Similarly, Fossum and Mason say in their book Facing Shame that “While guilt is a painful feeling of regret and responsibility for one’s actions, shame is a painful feeling about oneself as a person.”

So, that’s it for me. Even though I like the above quote and I’m leaving it there, I feel like I know enough about Ms. Brown that I do not need to spend any more time listening to her. I am sure there are lots and lots of people (especially considering the number of views on her TED Talks) that are helped by her words. I cannot get past our obviously different feelings towards the word shame. I guess I don’t really care whether hers and my definitions match up. Too many other things going on to think about. I can tell you absolutely what I am not feeling, shame for not feeling shame.

17 thoughts on “Shame

  1. Fantastic discussion this week on WNYC radio’s show On The Media about shame.

    One excellent quote is “violence is the attempt to turn shame into self esteem”.

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  2. Pingback: Shame, Guilt & Adultery | marriagerecoveryblog

  3. “Shame is a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior.”

    ^^ I personally regard shame a little differently. I can remember an incident when I was about 10 years old and I overhead my then BFF’s mother discussing me with another woman. She was saying words to the effect of ” you know her mother has been married three times, and she just left her husband and moved in with her boss – broke his marriage up. I don’t want Susie being friends with a child that comes from a family like that, but what do I do??” I then had to walk right past these people on my way to rejoin my friend. My face still heats up when I think of it… it was the walk of shame. I was Not Good Enough to be friends with her daughter. I came from a Bad Family. I carried that shame with me right through my childhood.

    I carried so much shame around with me for years and years… not because of anything I had personally done, but rather because of my messed up family dynamic.

    I think the shame Brene Brown is talking about is more the shame that in my opinion we all carry with us from childhood – not necessarily deserved shame, but shame that we bring on ourselves because as children we believe we are responsible for all the bad stuff that happens around us – you know, being last to be picked for the team, being caught picking your nose, coming from a family that is less wealthy/ less educated/ less “normal” than your friend’s family, from being overweight….

    So I think this type of shame is different to the shame that you mention – the type of shame that we feel for bad things we have done as adults.

    The first type of shame – the shame I felt as a child – has certainly made me more empathetic as an adult. I will see a child who is dealing with a divorce, or infidelity in the family (like my own kids are!) and my heart aches for them, because I know how it feels.

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    • I know there are many connotations to many words and I understand absolutely what you are saying above and how you are interpreting words for yourself and how they have affected your life. Makes total sense. I appreciate that mine are opinions I use to get through my life. I have written quite a bit using the word shame here on my blog. As a matter of fact, I actually searched my own blog for the word and spent quite a bit of time perusing all the times I had used it. For me, I would define what has happened in my childhood and throughout my life, those things that made me feel bad, as humiliation. They didn’t make me feel bad about myself for any length of time, they didn’t make me hate myself, just bad that someone would say them and I have to say I am pretty lucky because I have generally been surrounded by loving and caring people and by the time I encountered a difficult situation, my self esteem was cemented, pretty hard as a rock. The only thing in my life that has put some cracks in it was my husband’s infidelity, all the lies to me and about me to other women. But, that happened when I was 50. The person I had become, the person I had nurtured for 50 years is strong enough to get past this. I believe that.

      I am just stubborn with this word shame, I guess. For me, I really only associate it with a kind of toxic shame that destroys good healthy feelings. Shame has nearly taken on a life of its own in our house because of the level of toxic shame my husband lives with. It will be his greatest battle, in my opinion, ridding himself of shame. The bad feelings he feels about himself that were perpetrated on him by his family. Shame has shaped some of his most destructive life decisions. I do appreciate that people think and feel differently than me. I just do not agree with Ms. Brown’s interpretation of the word. Otherwise, from what I listened to, I felt she had a lot of valuable things to say. At this point around our house, lots of things are triggers and I personally need to be very careful about what I listen to. If I am listening to something that doesn’t feel right to me or makes me feel uncomfortable, I need to shut it down. I do not have the ability to “blow things off” anymore, at least not for now. This is why my blog is so valuable to me. So, for me, shame is a feeling we feel about ourselves, that we are BAD, whether it is something we have done or something someone has perpetrated on us, and it is destructive. I don’t think we should carry shame regardless of what we have done. I believe feelings of guilt help us recognize what we have done and to help us be better and do better. I believe humiliation is what we feel when someone does or says something about us that makes us feel bad. SHAME = I AM BAD… and then a whole lot of bad comes after that. I believe shame was actually the emotion that allowed my husband to be less empathic when pursuing broken women for sexual relationships. Shame was his overwhelming, overpowering emotion of feeling bad about himself, so he shut down a lot of his emotions including empathy, empathy of me, for his children, and for the other women. I believe his shame started when he was a boy and he started masturbating to fill the empty void his parents were creating in his life. He then felt shame for what he was doing and he started hiding who he really was. I just don’t think there is any right or wrong answer here. It is how we feel, feel about ourselves, feel about the power of words. I think we can manipulate words around all over the place, as long as we are kind to ourselves and kind to others and we don’t let any emotion get in the way of that. I really appreciate your comment. Thanks for sharing.

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  4. Kat, your post has really got me thinking. Thank you. So much so, that I now want to write a blog post myself on my thoughts around shame and guilt! I will cite your post here as my prompt for writing.

    Ms Brown is an academic researcher and is looking to ‘interpret’ her data. In her talk it is clear that she has struggled with this type of messy subjective data, much preferring what she considers to be the easier more definable stuff. I understand her dilemma, it is difficult to retain the necessary ‘scientific’ stance to remain respected in academic circles (and this is her livelihood) yet at the same time attempt to categorise and make sense of the human emotional contradictions. He interpretation is based upon her empirical data, yours and mine is based upon our experiential data. Both are valid in their respective contexts. However, Brown cannot stand outside herself and no matter how hard she tries, her interpretations will be shaped by this. I wonder if she would interpret everything in the same way had she the experience of being betrayed by someone she loved dearly.

    Vulnerability is part of the human condition. We are vulnerable to many things including what others think about us, aging, illness, war etc, and like betrayal these things we have little or no control over. Vulnerability to me is recognising this. However, often, the only time that we truly see our vulnerability is when we are confronted head on with a circumstance in which it can be manifested. This means that we have the circumstance to deal with along with all its practical considerations as well as the dent in our psychic and physical confidence which impact upon how we deal with our situation.

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  5. I too struggle with emotional concepts and most definitely I react to those words from my own emotional experience.

    I struggle with the term forgiveness. I used to think I knew what it meant but not so much anymore. I struggle with the difference between shame vs guilt. I have felt shame I think but maybe it was guilt? Or was it guilt and not shame? I don’t know. I’m not a philosopher or a psychologist. All I know is I have feelings, thoughts and emotions.

    Just as I wasn’t sure about the term SA, I learned what it means to those who believe they are affected by it by listening and learning from folks like you. I also learn from folks who have opposing views. I’m like that. Does it mean that I judge either side of being totally right or totally wrong? No. And I’m learning.

    Now vulnerable. There’s a good word and I suppose I am allowing my self a great deal of vulnerability by reconciling with a person who has torn my life upside down. I sure won’t listen to a lecture about how we need to be vulnerable. Fuck that. I could lecture on being the anti hero of vulnerability. I travel these vulnerable choices I’ve made very seriously now. Because every single time I open my heart and allow myself to be vulnerable, even though I have red flags and fog horns screaming at me not to, I end up broken-hearted all over again. And I am not talking about my husband. It’s other people in my life. The last four years of my life have been hell. I have lost dear friendships over this scandal. My own family resents and turn their backs on me, I suppose judging me for staying in this marriage. I don’t know. Maybe it’s their own insecurities about their own relationships. Am I really surrounded by narcissistic jerks who only want to exploit my kindness and generosity, trust and willingness to give the benefit of the doubt, or is it ME? That’s the scary part. I am the common denomitor here so I have to really look at me and my actions.

    Am I being foolish to continually be vulnerable? Some folks espouse this as a way to healing but I’m sure not healing by being vulnerable. I keep getting wounded. I’m a trusting person by nature. I trust too much. Is that foolish on my part? It would seem so. So yes Brene I think you have valid points but I would sure like to ask you to walk in my shoes for a while and see if I should still embrace vulnerability. I think no actually. What I need to learn is how to be less vulnerable and less trusting of this world. I wake up every morning crying over events that have passed in the last few months, years, so back to therapy I go . Told my therapist that I was sad, hurt, depressed over the events that have passed. She said I was correct in feeling this way and she’d be worried if I didn’t feel these feelings. So ok, validated, now what? When does the heartbreak end?

    I know since being thrown into this emotional maelstrom I’ve had to learn and examine lots of words that are supposed to represent our feelings and it’s very confusing. I think we judge ourselves harshly and respond to what the social mainstream attaches to words such as shame, forgiveness, vulnerability, guilt etc because in the end what difference does it make what those words truly mean? Kat this is your blog and I hope I’ve been supportive in my comments to you and respected what you do and say. I’ve seen plenty of blogs where posters are less so. I don’t get it. It’s like they are trying to convince people of their own correctness. I like your passion. I think you are wise. I think you are loving and kind and compassionate and I wish you would not read what the trolls say. There’s millions of them out there. I’ve learned in blog land one person says black there’s always one who says white. Keep writing please. You have more people for you here than against you.

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    • It helps to talk it out sometimes, doesn’t it? This is why I have found this blog to be helpful for me. I am so glad there is space for comments like yours, and all the others. We are all just trying to figure out what the hell happened to our life and how do we move forward in our new reality. It is difficult and words are just words, but we reach to them for solace, and guidance, and to not feel so alone. Thank you for your kind comments. You are always respectful (and many times make me laugh) and I do appreciate it. As I have said many times, I also appreciate (even though I don’t always like them at the moment) dissenting viewpoints. Of course mine is not the only opinion… but it is the only one I have and it is based on my life. I do very much learn from experiences of others. I am so happy my husband has been able to embrace his diagnosis and move forward in recovery and not listen to the naysayers who have not been anywhere near his shoes, so to speak. He is having to do everything he is doing with no contact with anyone in his family and very little help from friends and my family. Again, he is also in a very lonely spot and we are both broken together. It’s not pretty, but it is our life. We cannot possibly understand what it feels like to literally be someone else, but we can be kind in everything we do. In our zeal to be right or be heard or whatever, sometimes we lose track of the human piece in all this. I do try very hard to be understanding of the human spirit. Thanks, as always, for your support. ❤

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  6. Love this, Kat. We were pointed to the work of Brene Brown in therapy. It never sat too well with me, either. I think the first piece I watched was on vulnerabilty and how basically I had to allow myself to be vulnerable in order to heal. It made some sense. But hell, I was still traumatised. I had been 1000% vulnerable for twenty-something years, where did that get me? Broken hearted and feeling ripped off, aching, bleeding, diseased and steamrollered. Fuck vulnerabilty. Especially then! Not to say her ideas don’t have some merit and make you examine your own theories and make up. But as caroline said, everyone’s an expert and there is certainly not a one size fits all answer.

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    • Yeah, like I said to CF below, I do believe we need to be vulnerable enough to evaluate our own strengths and weaknesses, why we have them and how we can use them in our healing. I honestly did not even realize how vulnerable I was until someone pushed me off a cliff. Knowing and acknowledging that I was vulnerable and where I was vulnerable was pretty much where my healing journey began and I had never heard of Brene Brown. My therapist managed to figure it all out on her own. 🙂 Some of this is common sense, actually most of it is, from what I managed to listen to. For me, shame is totally different. Blue Eyes deals with the implications of deep toxic shame every day of his life. I will never carry that burden, and I am grateful. ❤

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  7. I can see where you are coming from Kat.
    I took the sentence in a completely different aspect.
    ‘Shame is universal. We all have it. The only people that don’t experience shame have no capacity for human empathy or compassion.’
    I took this to mean that if a person is incapable of feeling shame then they are probably of a narcissistic disorder. Those people that have no ability to have empathy , guilt, remorse, shame etc.
    Kat, this is your blog and you have the right to post whatever you damn well like with or without research. It is how you feel and what you need to express at the given time.
    I did relate to what BB said about vulnerability. I guess I was open and vulnerable all my life. Where did that get me? Lol. Xxx

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    • It is probably really just semantics here, but I think if people aren’t able to feel empathy for others due to the pain they have caused by their own actions, they probably have narcissistic personality disorder. I can’t lump all those words, emotions, feelings, whatever into one category… empathy, guilt, remorse and shame all have different meanings to me and for me shame is the destructive one. The one that holds you back from being healthy and really feeling good about yourself. For me, shame is a whole different ballgame. I guess what I am speaking about is maybe more appropriately termed toxic shame. Me, personally, I don’t really associate with any other type of shame. The shame I see in my husband since d-day and his secret life was exposed, is destructive. It was how he felt about himself since he was a child. That he was bad and he wasn’t worthy of anyone’s love. I have never felt that emotion. Maybe Ms. Brown is speaking of a different type of shame altogether, but she doesn’t define it well in my opinion. Her words are sweeping and generalized. We don’t all feel a certain way or even define words in the same way. That was why I stopped listening. I agree to a certain degree that we need to be vulnerable enough in our healing to look at our strengths and weaknesses, evaluate them, and learn to use them to our advantage, but being vulnerable and feeling shameful are two completely different things. Honestly, I did not finish listening to the TED Talk, so I cannot speak to the rest of it. You are strong, CF. I will agree that we are all vulnerable, no doubt in my mind about that. ❤

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    • Yes, me too… an expert on me, myself, and I, LOL! And that’s all I am concerned with right now. I had honestly never heard of this woman before a couple months ago and I knew nothing about her other than her name. I am sure she resonates with a lot of people as she seems quite popular. What I did listen to seemed mostly interesting but nothing earth shattering. We obviously do just have different definitions of shame. Mine is pretty simple. I don’t feel like I am a bad person because of anything I have done. My husband does feel like he is an awful and unworthy person. He was trained to feel that way by his parents. He is working at changing the way he thinks. It is painfully difficult. I don’t know why I get so caught up in these “internet celebrities” and their opinions. I should be able to let it all go. I almost deleted the post as soon as I had written it, but then I thought, what the heck, and I hit post. 🙂

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