• Jennifer Alley

Shame: The Insidious Defeater

Shame: The Insidious Defeater

October 20, 2014


Jennifer Alley

It wasn’t until after I was out of graduate school and well into my professional career that I really learned about shame. While many of my clients seemed to receive help and work through tough problems and even trauma, there seemed to be a few areas where we would sometimes get stuck. After training with Dr. Brené Brown and her team on shame resiliency, I began to notice huge progress both within myself and in my clients.

Most of us don’t talk about shame. By definition, shame is that which feel unspeakable; the things that keep us awake at night or nag us throughout our daily tasks. They are the messages we hear in our head when we want to be vulnerable or make a connection with another person; the voice that discourages us when we think of taking a risk or doing something brave. For many of the clients I work with, the voice shows up as something like, “not ____________ enough” (fill the blank with words like good, smart, pretty, skinny, sexy, funny, etc). It also dresses up in messages like, I’m unloveable, flawed, disgusting, broken, worthless, a phony, or a fraud. When we have a fight with someone we love, shame is often the feeling that causes us to curl up in the corner feeling completely defeated and “bad” or lash out and blame the other person, perhaps even shaming them.

For many people, these messages and statements are so insidious, so ingrained that they are perhaps not even really consciously noticed. Instead, they may just be internalized as “truth,” minimizing the chance that the person feeling shame might take that risk, share something vulnerable, or succeed at something hard. It often keeps people from having the close relationships that they would like to have because they fear that if people only knew the “truth” about them, they wouldn’t be liked or considered worthy of connection.

As part of the work I do with clients, I ask them to notice the “tapes” that play in the back of their minds. When they feel challenged, when they are trying something new or difficult, when they feel scared or hurt, what messages are they hearing? They often come back surprised by the amount of negative self-talk or self-shaming messages that are on replay throughout their days. In my work with individuals who have a trauma history including domestic violence, assault, or abuse, with clients who have experienced divorce or made the difficult choice to abort or give a baby up for adoption, and with clients who are in recovery from various types of addiction, there is often a great deal of shame happening consciously or unconsciously.

The biggest problem with shame is that it jeopardizes relationships, stunts our growth, keeps us from connecting with others, and makes us feel very alone. The anecdote to shame is owning our story with self-compassion and love in addition to sharing our story and our shame with those that we trust. To learn more about Dr. Brown’s work on shame, visit www.brenebrown.com. 


Find Hope, Help & Healing