How Does Shame Grow?

Shame (n): The intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of acceptance and belonging.

I cannot begin to tell you the number of times this pesky little word comes up in daily conversation. It’s inevitable; the experience of shame is apparent almost everywhere. Shame is an emotion to which we can all unfortunately relate. We are certainly not lacking in experience with shame, but we do tend to be lacking in the ability to uncover it, to overcome it, and to re-establish some foundations of our worth.

Brene Brown, a favorite author of mine, uses the metaphor of relating shame to growth in a petri dish:

“If you put shame in a Petri dish, it needs three things to grow exponentially: secrecy, silence and judgment. If you put the same amount of shame in a Petri dish and douse it with empathy, it can’t survive.”

If we allow shame to remain in the dark within our minds, then it tends to grow from one belief about ourselves and starts to impact how we live our lives.

Shame doesn’t often sit dormant; it becomes exposed in our everyday life through emotions and actions of anger, lies, withdrawal, loneliness, disapproval, poor boundaries, harassment, and confusion. As much as we try to keep it inside, it slowly begins to infect our lives. In fact, I am convinced that many hurtful interactions are a result of past shame in someone’s life.

It’s amazing to think that shame can have so much power…

If we let it.

Many times, shame could be related to the expectations that we hold about ourselves (I need to be in this stage of life). Shame could also be related to the value we place on how others see us or what they expect from us (you should be a “good” mom, you should always look put together, you are the best athlete, etc.)

So the question then turns to this: How can we fight shame?

  1. Becoming a good receiver and giver of empathy
  2. Recognizing shame and understanding our triggers
  3. Practicing critical awareness
  4. Reaching out
  5. Speaking shame

The bottom line is that we don’t have to live under the weight of shame. Let’s begin to expose the lies, speak truth, and walk into a healthier lifestyle and healthier relationships! It’s an ongoing battle (for you and me both), but I believe we have the power to win.


Written by: Kim DeRamus

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