Shame is a feeling that everyone struggles with, men and women of all ages, social status, education level and perceived levels of success. We all struggle with shame. “Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.” (Brown, 68) Shame is not guilt, where we realize we have done something wrong and can’t believe we did whatever we did. It is not humiliation where we feel like we are receiving treatment we don’t deserve. It is not embarrassment where we can see others having made the same embarrassing thing. Shame becomes a part of the story we tell about ourselves, we begin to believe that we are the issue. Shame moves beyond I have done something wrong to believing that I am something wrong.
Men and women experience shame differently. For women the primary trigger is how they look, followed by motherhood. It sounds like this:
- Look perfect. Do perfect. Be perfect. Anything less is shaming.
- Being judged by other mothers.
- Being exposed—the flawed parts of yourself that you want to hide from everyone are revealed.
- No matter what I achieve or how far I’ve come, where I come from and what I survived will always keep me from feeling like I’m good enough.
- Even though everyone knows that there’s no way to do it all, everyone still expects it. Shame is when you can’t pull it off looking like it’s under control.
- Never enough at home. Never enough at work. Never enough in bed. Never enough with my parents. Shame is never enough.
- No seat at the cool table. The pretty girls are laughing (Brown, 85)
For men it is organized around the perception of being weak, and this comes from both men and women. If you haven’t watched the video, I know I can really resonate with the man who exclaims, “but when we reach out and share our stories, we get the emotional shit beat out of us.” And not just by other guys, women play into this as well. Men learn young how to pretend to be vulnerable.
Shame for men sounds like:
- Shame is failure. At work. On the football field. In your marriage. In bed. With money. With your children. It doesn’t matter—shame is failure.
- Shame is being wrong. Not doing it wrong, but being wrong.
- Shame is a sense of being defective
- Shame happens when people think you’re soft. It’s degrading and shaming to be seen as anything but tough.
- Revealing weakness is shaming. Basically, shame is weakness.
- Showing fear is shameful. You can’t show fear. You can’t be afraid—no matter what.
- Shame is being seen as the “guy you can shove up against the lockers.”
- Our worst fear is being criticized or ridiculed—either one of those is extremely shaming. (Brown, 92)
The experience of shame is the same but the way it is received is different between the sexes. We never become immune to shame, but we can learn to become resilient. Shame prevents us from risking and being creative. It tells us we are not good enough, not smart enough, not popular enough…you can fill in whatever possible fear you like. It keeps us out of the arena, keeps us from sharing things that are important to us and keeps us imprisoned in our own shame. It thrives in an environment of secrecy and judgment.
I know I haven’t done justice to Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly, which is an incredible book-better even than the videos, but it is time for me to move on to something else. Enjoy the video and may you develop resilience to the power of shame.