When I read I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn’t): Making the Journey from “What Will People Think?” to “I am Enough” by Brené Brown, Ph.D., LMSW, I knew I needed to tell all my friends about it. Brown researches women and shame, and after reading the book, it was like discovering a new color and suddenly seeing it everywhere in myself, family, friends, and even strangers I interacted with in the grocery store or post office!
“I don’t want people to think I’m…”
“I don’t want to be seen as…”
“I would die if people thought I was…”
“I couldn’t stand people thinking I’m…”
As you can see, all of these are fears of “what others think” rather than how we feel about ourselves, and can often lead to decisions not based on what we truly need or want for ourselves but on what we think will please others. Worse, our internal voices often do much more of the work of shaming than external ones.
Developing shame resilience is possible and incredibly healing, composed of four basics—empathy, courage, compassion, and connection. The words alone are soothing. Brown writes in depth about these four tools, and one paragraph in particular struck me:
If we want to build shame resilience and cultivate our authenticity, we must learn how to become members of our own connection network. We must learn how to respond to ourselves with empathy and understanding. It takes a lot of work to stay out of judgment about others—it takes even more work to stay out of self-judgment. Our ability to be authentic and genuine often depends on our level of self-acceptance, our sense of belonging to ourselves, and our ability to express self-empathy.
These words were painful and heart-breaking to read. I am my own worst enemy; my self-talk is vicious. I believe this to be true of so many women I know, love, and respect. Why?
Brown discusses that why in her book. For me, I realized that obsessing on the why was simply another way to shame myself! Have my attempts to practice shame resilience by developing empathy, courage, compassion, and connection been perfect? Not at all. And to me that’s a beautiful admission. I’m trying, regardless of perfection, and believe for all of us that the simple act of trying will lead to revolutionary changes in our lives.
Here’s a wonderful animation in which Brown discusses empathy: