How Do We Protect Ourselves When in Shame?

“Shame is the most powerful, master emotion. It’s the fear that we’re not good enough.” –Brené Brown

In the previous post I introduced the work of Brené Brown and the distinction she makes between shame and guilt.  She identifies shame as a fundamental feeling of unworthiness or brokenness.  It is something that is wrong with us.  Guilt is recognizing that a behavior is not in alignment with our values or who we say we are.  Guilt is focused on what was done and is therefore is something that we can change.  There is an important distinction between shame and guilt in how we see ourselves and interact with the world.

Dr. Linda Hartling’s research identified three strategies of disconnection, which Brené has termed our ‘Shame Shields.’ They are Moving Away, Moving Towards, and Moving Against.

  • Moving Away is withdrawing. It is playing small and making ourselves invisible.  When someone uses the Moving Away shame shield they tend to avoid conflict and disappear whenever they feel uncomfortable.  They isolate or make themselves scarce when there is an uncomfortable situation.
  • Moving Towards is the shield of making everything perfect and pleasing others. When there is a conflict, people who use this shield will work diligently to make sure everyone else is happy, often at their own expense.
  • Moving Against is deflecting and fighting back. This person uses anger and aggression to protect themselves.  They will shame the other person in order to take the pressure off their own feelings of discomfort.

While we all use these three shields from time to time, we usually have our go-to shield.  This is the shield that immediately comes out whenever we feel threatened or vulnerable. The problem is that, as we use our shield it often begins to crack.  Our tendency is to put a larger shield up, so no one sees the crack.  Eventually these shields become so heavy that the weight is unbearable.  By recognizing our own shield, we are able to become more aware of how we are responding to situations.  That awareness is our power to make a different decision.  It takes courage to identify our shields and begin to respond differently.  It is often easier to see others’ shields then it is for us to examine our own.  That is normal, but it also falls under the shield of deflection.  While it is helpful to understand the shields others are using, it is our awareness of our own shame shields that creates the change within us.  How different would your life be without your shame shield?

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