As a coach and therapist, I spend my time helping people increase levels of resilience. Resilience is the ability to overcome adversity; to bounce back; to stand back up after getting knocked down. Resilience is our ability to overcome and grow from the challenges in our lives. Resilience is NOT the ability to avoid or resist challenges in life, nor is it the ability to avoid some scarring from the painful events. However, resilience enables us to be shaped by adversity in ways that create more effective and efficient coping for future challenges. And the good news is that resilience is a skill that can be practiced and honed.
In leading groups, workshops, and online courses based on the research of Brene’ Brown, much of my attention is focused specifically on shame resilience. Ugh, I know, that sounds awful. It is actually very rewarding to help others learn to overcome some of the most insidious and destructive thoughts experienced. If we define shame as the isolating feeling that we are in some way so flawed that we are unloveable, and if we acknowledge that humans are wired for connection and cannot thrive in isolation, then shame resilience can be a life saver.
Brown defines shame resilience as “the ability to practice authenticity when we experience shame, to move through the experience without sacrificing our values, and to come out on the other side of the shame experience with more courage, compassion, and connection than we had going into it”.
As you can see, simply by definition, shame resilience is no easy task. Just as we learn shameful thoughts and behaviors, we must also expect a bit of work to overcome those shameful thoughts. Because we didn’t come into shame by ourselves, we must connect with others in order to come out of it. And in our efforts to overcome our patterns of shame, we must be willing to try time and again.
The first thing we must be able to do is to recognize when we are experiencing shame. This is best identified by what is happening in our bodies. Shame is such a powerful experience that it triggers the stress response and we fall into survival mode in the nervous system. If we can begin to notice the signs and signals our bodies are showing us, we can not only come to recognize what is happening, but also label it and back out of stress response.
Once we are able to calm the nervous system enough to see what is happening, it is helpful to be able to take a step back and remind ourselves that we are not the only person in the world whom has ever experienced something like this and that simply because we are feeling shame does not mean that there is something inherently wrong with us. It means that we are human and we are trying to navigate this journey. Taking a step back also allows a wider view of how this began and what triggered us.
Finally, as mentioned earlier, overcoming shame takes connection with others. Shame encourages and thrives in secrecy and silence, so in order to break that power hold, we must reach out and share what we are experiencing with someone who will be able to give us the support we need. So this step takes identifying the right person, being brave enough to share, and then asking for the specific support that we need.
This is all a process, but with practice it gets easier and we become healthier and more resilient. Remember, shame is a shared human experience, but it derives its power from convincing us that we are the only one. And that is simply not true.
This week, see if you can start to identify what happens in your body when you experience shame. Check out one of the many books by Brene’ Brown or reach out to find a partner or a group who is also interested in doing this work with you. I lead 3 online courses per year based in this work, so reach out to me for more information. Whatever you do, know that you are worth the work.
Chat again soon,