By: Tyler Fong
Living with unresolved shame can be an isolating and demoralizing experience, affecting how we view ourselves. When conceptualizing shame, I have often been drawn to Brené Brown’s definition, “Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love, belonging, and connection” (Brown, 2021, p. 137). Looking at this deeper, shame is a self-conscious emotion which often consists of negative feelings and self-defeating thoughts directed at ourselves. Identifying shameful emotions is the first step in the healing process, providing us with a foundation to challenge inaccurate thoughts and perceptions of ourselves.
Self-compassion is the process of providing ourselves with empathetic understanding and support rather than being judgemental and critical of ourselves. Incorporating this skill into our lives can help improve our well-being and become a source of resilience. Self-compassion is broken down into mindfulness, Self-Kindness, and Common Humanity. Each element is aimed to challenge a specific part of shame.
The first element of self-compassion, mindfulness, aims to mitigate the self-judgment that can come with certain thoughts, feelings, and inner experiences. When we think of these components, we will often view them as negative and attempt to avoid or suppress them. This takes us away from the present moment and gives power to our judgment. By first identifying these thoughts, feelings, and inner experiences as a result of our shame, we can work to understand their effect and limit their influence. The goal of mindfulness is to hold these thoughts and emotions with openness and acceptance, allowing us to be in the present moment and effectively observe them and the ability to provide compassion to ourselves. Here is a link to a brief Mindfulness Breathing Exercise to help bring your awareness to the breath and the present moment.
Self-kindness is the element of self-compassion which aims to replace self-defeating thoughts and the harsh judgments of shame with support and kindness toward oneself. These thoughts and judgments will often come up at times when we feel like we have made a mistake or when we experience feelings of inadequacy. Here, we can work to become aware of these negative thought patterns and find ways of reframing them to be more accurate and supportive. Taking a perspective of acceptance and growth can be an effective method. Further, working to frame these situations as an opportunity to learn instead of talking negatively to ourselves, will help facilitate resilience and growth. Self-kindness can replace self-judgement through the acceptance of our experiences while holding an empathetic understanding.
3. Common Humanity
Unresolved shame can leave us with the sense that we are all alone and the only person suffering or making mistakes. Common humanity works to remind us that we can all be vulnerable, prone to mistakes, and experience pain. The premise is not to take away from your emotions and feelings, rather it is used in a way that connects you to the shared human experience. Keeping this in mind may help mitigate feelings of isolation. Moreover, it has been shown to increase motivation to seek support, whether that is through talking with friends, family, or a professional.