Give shame a voice in your conversations

International coach federation global conference, 3-6 October 2012, london

Coaching in which shame isn’t talked about, probably isn’t going deep enough, said Brené Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work.
“Shame is the most primitive feeling [we can have]. Forty years of data shows that people showing no capacity for connection experience, no shame, [are] psychopaths” said Brown in her keynote address.
“Shame can’t survive being spoken…For shame to survive it needs secrecy, silence and judgment. [So] we talk about holding a space for shame.”
She said that the top four triggers for shame in women, according to recent research, are about being nice, thin, modest and using their resources for their appearance. For men, there is only one: not being perceived as weak – and women are often to blame.
“When women derive their power from men’s status, they can’t bear to see that jeopardised. Show me a woman who can sit with a man who’s vulnerable and I will show you a women who has done lots of work [on herself] and who can sit in her power.”
She said one way shame shows up is in perfectionism. “People might say they don’t do shame but they really struggle with perfectionism. Perfectionism is about the cognitive process: ‘If I do it all perfectly, I can avoid shame, hurt, judgment.’
But perfectionism protects us from being seen. It’s different from healthy striving. Efficient people don’t sit on an email for three hours.”
She explained that shame is a focus on self whereas guilt is a focus on behaviour. So if we do something ‘bad’ and our self-talk is ‘I’m an idiot’, that is shame, whereas ‘I can’t believe I did something so stupid’ is guilt.
She said shame is highly correlated with suicide, addiction and depression, whereas guilt is inversely correlated with these. Guilt seems to be self-protective.

Coaching at Work, Volume 7, issue 6

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