People use shame in all sorts of different situations as a way to manipulate others into doing or feeling something that they want you to do or feel. Shame is a silent and powerful manipulator. Many times, we don’t even realize that shame is silently controlling how we are reacting to a situation because we don’t even recognize that we are feeling shame.
As Brené Brown has noted: “shame is much more likely to be the source of destructive, hurtful behavior than the solution or cure”. She defines shame as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection.”
And yet, shame continues to pop up in our homes and our workplaces. Often, the people using shame as a tool are not even consciously aware that they are doing, nor are they always consciously aware of the damage that it is causing.
Shame can be used by a boss who is frustrated that a project has not advanced according to an expected timeline. It can be used in team meetings, when a colleagues’ work performance is compared to that of another staff member. It can be used to effectively silence people who are expressing disagreement or discontentment with a plan.
Shame is someone else’s way of pushing their uncomfortable feelings onto you. The person who is using shame feels an intense emotion of their own, and does not have the tools to process those emotions effectively. Consequently, they push these feelings onto you in the form of shame, which helps them to offload their uncomfortable feelings.
The problem is that if no one recognizes this pattern, the shame just keeps getting pushed down the line. This can happen when a Director shames middle management regarding performance on a certain task and middle management turns around and shames the front-line employees, who then become disgruntled.
For this vicious cycle to stop, someone needs to be able to recognize the unhealthy role that shame can play in these dynamics.
After discovering Brené Brown’s work on shame, I worked hard to connect with what shame feels like so that I could stop getting inadvertently caught in shame cycles.
I learned to stay present with how shame feels in body, so that I could start to tolerate the feeling of shame. The more I became conscious of what triggered shame in me, the more I could reflect on how to not let those feelings unconsciously drive my next actions.
Recognizing the physical cues of shame in your own body, such as a sensation of nausea, a warm flushing feeling throughout the body, or tightness in the chest, is the first step to being able to step out of a shame cycle. This will help to release you from the vicious grip that shame can have on us.
What NOT to do when someone is shaming you
Shame is a universal human emotion. No one is immune to it. Over the course of this week, try to tune into what shame feels like in your body. Take note of the types of situations or interactions that lead you to feel shame. These first steps will open up doors to manage difficult conversations differently and will help you to step away from communication patterns that are causing stress and unhappiness.
If you are looking to support executives, managers, coordinators or supervisors in providing feedback to staff more effectively, check out my workshop Empowering Employees: Giving Feedback that Works.
If you liked this post, you might also like: