Shame, Gender & Stupid

It’s been a very Brené Brown night.

ShamanGal was in real pain last night.  When I read her a positive piece she wrote the night before she could barely recognize the words as her own, she was so distant from them.

I knew she needed help and somehow, I caught on the shame she felt.   I did my first shame work in the 1990s with John Bradshaw, author of Healing The Shame That Binds You, starting with the old video, now on YouTube  (Part 1, Part 2)

Today, though, the woman talking about shame is Brené Brown.  Her TED talks, starting with TEDx, became big enough hits that she is now working with Oprah to give on-line classes in shame, empathy and vulnerability.

When Ms. Brown easily talks about shame in a gendered context, the shame that we use to enforce gender norms.   Originally, she didn’t study men, but once that door was opened, she began to see how the expectations women placed on men placed shame on them, forcing them into formal roles.

Guilt is when you feel you have done something wrong, but shame is when you feel you are wrong, stupid and a failure.  Shame is deep, corrosive and toxic.

I have done the shame work, and according to Ms. Brown I am doing the right thing for shame resilience, reaching out for empathy, for others who share this same emotional burden and who we know are not sick or toxic.

Elements Of Shame Resilience

1) Recognizing Shame & Understanding Our Triggers
2) Practising Critical Awareness Of The Roots Of Shame
3) Reaching Out, Telling Our Story
4) Speaking Shame

Going through her work, though, I was struck by how much of the training in shame I still carry, and struck by how others in my family still continue the rituals of shaming even though they might want to move past it.

I carry all the guy shame, which in many ways is the hardest shame to shed because much of that shame is about not being strong enough to resist the emotions.   If you are ashamed to enter the emotions of shame, you can never process the emotions of shame.   When others get disgusted when you share your emotions, the cycle continues.

I also enter all the gal shame, those lessons of being too much, too big, too assertive and too demanding.

That mix is wicked tough.  Shame triggers trauma, that fight or flight response.   When I walk into a space, I know exactly how I have failed, and I also know that I shouldn’t expect any empathy, because I know how people deny empathy to those who are just too whatever.

I have learned to manage this shame cycle, but I have not learned how to transcend it.  Poor ShamanGal still doesn’t know how to manage her own shame, starting with just being aware of it before it engulfs her.

It’s been a long, sleepless night going back to this work, but I know it as critical.  You cannot be courageous enough to be vulnerable until you are beyond the shame of knowing yourself as a failure, as Ms. Brown reminds us.

I know how stupid I am, what a failure I am because I spent my life not just being shamed into gender norms (and the queerer you are, the more you are shamed) but also because I had a mother who was so enmeshed in her own shame that she burned it onto her children.

There is no free lunch, no life without shame, as Ms. Brown says.  But we can become resilient and start to hold onto our own value.

It’s still a challenge for me, still a swamp for ShamanGal.