Blog Prompt: What role did shame play in your family? How is shame a part of you now?
In Brene Brown’s Listening to Shame TED Talk, she suggests “Shame, for women, is this web of unattainable, conflicting, competing expectations of who we are supposed to be”. Further, she argues “shame is an epidemic in our culture”. These two points bring to light the ubiquitous nature of shame in our society. When confronted with the question of what role shame played within my family, I am drawn to initially think beyond the family unit. Shame is not a single family problem. It is a cultural problem. It is part of Western socialization. So yes, shame plays a role in all families, but it is also much bigger than that. Shame is rooted in racism, patriarchy, capitalism and sexism, socioeconomic status, homophobia, ableism and beyond. In identifying as a woman, I am going to speak to my gendered experience of being bombarded with messages of “unattainable, conflicting, competing expectations” (Brown, 2012) through socialization with family and friends, in the workplace, at school, in motherhood and through media. Shame is deeply entrenched in our society and therefore deeply entrenched in the family system. In the reading of the Shame Handout for today’s class, the shame-based family rules of control, perfectionism, blame, and the no-talk rule stood out for in particular. These are patterns that stand out in my family; examples of which I can call to mind quite easily.
Recognizing these patterns in my family has helped me to reframe my thinking around shame for myself and as a parent, family member, friend and classroom teacher. In Brene Brown’s (2018) book Dare to Lead, she describes shame resilience as
“the ability to practice authenticity when we experience shame, to move through the experience without sacrificing our values, and to come out on the other side of same experience with more courage, compassion, and connection than we had going into it. Ultimately, shame resilience is about moving from shame to empathy — the real antidote to shame” (p. 136).
For me, it is important to recognize that everyone feels shame. It is a typical human response to our socialization and the messages we receive about who we are. But, many people are crippled by their shame; it inhibits their creativity and is used as a defense mechanism. Through these understandings, I am able to begin working on lofty goals of shame resilience. My personal goals surrounding shame include being able to recognize why I am feeling shame, where that feeling is coming from (ie. what is it from my past/family that is causing that feeling), and then being able to move through and beyond that shame so that it doesn’t dull the light, creativity and innovation that I have to offer to the world. My personal goals around shame extend to understanding that I am my toughest critic and therefore working towards accepting myself more deeply. In understanding shame as a cultural problem, I hope to hold space for my friends and family when they need and want to be vulnerable, to diminish the “secrecy, silence and judgement” (Brown, 2012) that add fuel to (shame) fire. Further, as a classroom teacher, I plan to include more lessons on social and emotional literacy in my classroom in order to foster empathy, “the antidote to shame” (Brown, 2012). I am learning some new ways to do this in reading Borba’s (2016) book, Unselfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World which was listed as a suggested reading for this course. These goals represent the work I am currently doing with regard to shame. I recognize that this work with shame will be an life-long process of deconstructing the messages I receive about myself from society and those around me and thinking critically about how I can work with my shame to better myself and those around me.
Brown, Brene (2018). Dare to Lead. New York: Random House.
Brown, Brene (2012). Listening to Shame [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_listening_to_shame?language=en#t-6516