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Shame and Resilience

This article was originally published on Ms In The Biz on August 3rd 2018.

That feeling when… you f*ck up royally.

And I mean, mess up in a way that feels bad. Really bad. If you’re daring to take any kind of risk in life, chances are you’re going to mess up. And chances are, that at some point you’re going to experience shame.

Shame: the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging (as defined by Brene Brown).

So, what are the circumstances that push us into feeling shame? Anything that unleashes that voice in your head, the one that rears up when you feel a sense of failure; when you fail to meet someone’s expectations, or worse, you fail to meet your own – that’s a shame trigger. Maybe you’re clinging to perfectionism. Maybe you’re an actor and are triggered when you stumble through an audition, or when you don’t book that part you really want. Maybe a well-meaning family member asking, “What TV shows have you been in lately?” is enough to set you off.

What are your common shame triggers?

Discussions around shame and vulnerability have become increasingly common to the layperson (read: non-mental health professional) thanks to the work of researcher Brene Brown. Her TEDx Talk on vulnerability has over 9 million views. If you haven’t seen it yet, go watch. It will change the way you see the world, I promise.

There is one piece from Brene Brown’s prolific body of work that I have found most useful in working with shame. It is a method called Rising Strong.

The Rising Strong process is a practice of maintaining our presence and our wholeheartedness in the midst of a fall, of failure and of pain. It is a practice that supports us when we are heading into emotional tailspins – states of negative emotional uprising that we all experience as human beings. Everyone experiences shame responses – it’s part of being alive. But we can learn to navigate them in ways that are forwarding for us, that limit the damage done, and that build our resilience rather than strip us of our confidence and drag us down into a pit.

The Rising Strong process consists of three phases:

  1. The Rumble

  2. The Reckoning

  3. The Revolution

The Rumble

In the Rumble phase, we are “in it”. Perhaps more accurately, we are “in our shit”. This is the moment when the (wo)man is falling in the arena… in slow motion… queue the record scratch and we freeze in time. What is our (s)hero thinking or feeling as this fall happens? What goes through her mind? What are the thoughts, feelings and sensations that arise – and what meaning does she give it?

This is where we learn to recognize when the tailspin is happening. This recognition is a critical step. It becomes our choice point: to curiously and courageously walk into the fire prepared to do the work necessary to rise strong – or stick with what is known and comfortable.

This Rumble could last seconds, or it could last years. It is a practice.

The Reckoning

Consider the reckoning a proverbial “Act 2”. The protagonist (that’s us) resorts to all known strategies for dealing with a problem. We might numb. We might stuff our emotions. We might avoid or deny our feelings – only to explode later. We might blame or get angry.

Eventually, we must face our emotions. And, we must face our stories. Reckoning with the stories we’ve made up is what allows us to grow into courage and resilience. We ask ourselves; what stories have I made up about this experience and is it really true? Have I made up that I’m a failure? That I’m not good enough? That the other person hates me? That I’m a bad friend?

This reckoning work requires vulnerability. It requires us to get awkward and uncomfortable. Give yourself permission and remember, it takes practice.

Will it make you a better human? You bet.

The Revolution

The revolution is the result of our reckoning and our courageous rumble. It is the rewriting of our story. Owning all that is and has been with acceptance and self-compassion. It’s a fierce act of self-love when we choose authenticity and worthiness.

There is much more to explore with the process. And it’s something I continue to practice, and likely will for the rest of my life.

The gifts I’ve gained from the rising strong process are plentiful. The courage to follow my calling to be a coach and therapist. The ability to show up wholly in my relationship during some incredibly vulnerable times. The acceptance to release much of what was making me miserable in my life and instead lean into vulnerability and follow my heart.


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