Shame, Humiliation, Guilt and Embarrassment

Brene Brown, a shame and empathy researcher, talks about shame, humiliation, guilt and embarrassment. In a nutshell, shame means I am bad, guilt means I’ve done something bad, humiliation means something bad has happened to me and I didn’t deserve it, and embarrassment means something bad happened to me that often happens to other people. Do you see the common thread running through all of this; the word “bad”. This word is an evaluative word. We have spent our lives assigning evaluation to situations: good, bad or some variation in between. Marshall Rosenberg talks about observing rather than evaluation. For example, if I discover that I’ve been walking around the mall with my skirt stuck in the back of my panty hose, that is an observation. If I tell myself that people have been laughing at me about this, that’s a story; and if my belief is that it’s a bad thing to be laughed at without that being your intention that’s an evaluation.

So what is common about the concepts that Brene Brown has been observing and researching is that they are constructs. In other words, there wouldn’t be shame, humiliation, guilt and embarrassment if we hadn’t decided that certain situations are bad. What’s more important about these concepts is they keep us from being whole. In other words, who would want to believe they are bad? I can’t be happy if I believe I’m bad. I will do everything I can to protect myself from that. That will include not taking responsibility for actions I may have done that have hurt others or myself.

Because we believe we are bad we have broken ourselves. We spend our lives trying to avoid that part of ourselves. How can we be happy? Marshall Rosenberg reminds us we did the best we could with the tools we had in the situation. It has absolutely nothing to do with who we are. We can look back and gain understanding of why we made the choices we did, which anyone else in that same situation would have chosen to do, and we can give ourselves empathy. We can own that part of ourselves again. We can become whole. We can also give that empathy to others.

stained glass person

If I am going to love my whole self just the way I am, I am going to have to appreciate the path I took to get here, because I wouldn’t be who I am without having taken that path.

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