S04|03 - What I’ve Learned About Shame + Parenting from Brené BrownMar 14, 2022
The number one issue that I see in parenting, across the board, is shame. It’s not something we really talk about. By it’s very nature we try to hide/avoid it, which only increases it. My goal is to help you, and me, become shame resilient. This means that we will still feel it. It won’t go away forever, but we can learn how to feel it, process it and move forward. Tune into this episode where I share all that I’ve learned about shame in the past 12 months.
What we cover in this episode:
- The 5 things I learned from Dare to Lead TM by Brené Brown
- How shame affects our parenting and creates more shame
- Thoughts that lead to shame (shame vs. guilt)
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Crystal The Parenting Coach: Hello, and welcome to today's podcast episode - What I’ve Learned About Shame + Parenting from Brené Brown. Now, if you don't know who Brené Brown is, go and type in on Google, Brené Brown TED Talk, and watch The Power of Vulnerability, and also watch her talk on Listening to Shame. They are super good and super eye-opening.
Shame + Parenting
All right. So, I want you to listen to these situations and see if you can figure out what they have in common; “I yell at my kids when they are fighting with each other.” “I scroll social media and maybe eat junk food once my kids go to bed because I'm feeling stressed or overwhelmed.” “Maybe I'm feeling triggered by my kids when they don't listen to me the first time or maybe the second time, or maybe the fifth time.”
Now these might seem like very different situations, but they all have one thing in common. The thing that they have in common are the thoughts behind the action or the thoughts behind the behavior. As you know, we talk a lot about thoughts. We use a process called the model. You can go back and listen to the episode, the model, in Season 1.
The thoughts behind each of these could be, “This is my fault,” or “I'm ruining my kids,” or “they wouldn't fight so much if I was a better mom, I wish I could handle this better, there must be something wrong with me, they would listen to me if I really knew what I was doing, they would pay more attention to me and they wouldn't fight if we had a better relationship.”
The number one issue that I see in anyone who's struggling with parenting, aren't we all, is shame. Every single client, every single person I've interacted with that has to do with parenting, including myself, shame is a huge thing within parenting that we don't often talk about. We don't talk about it because we don't know much about it. We don't speak about it a lot. We don't really understand it.
So, one of the reasons that I wanted to dig into Brené Brown’s teachings today is because she has been so pivotal in changing this conversation and making it the norm, and talking about it in a way that makes sense. So, like, I have mentioned before in past episodes, shame creates more shame.
The Shame Cycle
The parenting cycle goes like this; I make a mistake or a failure, right? I yell at my kids or maybe I'm mean or unkind or short or whatever that looks like for you, whatever you feel like a mistake or a failure is. We all interpret things differently, right?
So, it's whatever you feel like your failure is, that's going to create a feeling of shame in your body from a thought like, “I'm ruining my kids,” or “This is my fault,” or “This shouldn't have happened,” or “I'm not doing a good enough job,” or “I could be doing better.” Right?
So, then we feel shame. And then, what do we do? We create more shame. We disconnect, we withdraw. We react. All of those actions that are going to come from a feeling of shame, are going to create more shame.
Now, if you haven't listened to the episode on the model, I highly suggest you go and listen to that. But this is how the model goes. It's CTFAR; C = Circumstance or Situation, T = Thought. So, we have a thought about all of the things happening in our life. That thought creates a Feeling in us, that's the F. So, whatever the thought is, is going to lead to a feeling and that feeling fuels our actions.
So, if we're feeling shame, our actions are going to be looking like - overreacting, withdrawing, disconnecting yelling - more of what we're not looking for. And, the R is Result, the result that we're creating of those actions from that feeling that stems from that thought. That is the shame cycle.
The Inner Critic
So, as we feel shame, and as we kind of sit in that shame, we're going to create even more shame. Now, it's kind of like we're going to-- It feels useful. I think a lot of us feel like, oh, but we need to kind of carry that around so that we do better. So, I want you to imagine it's like going to the gym, and we maybe haven't been to the gym in a while.
We don't really know what we're doing, and we're like learning. So, we like get on the spin bike and we're like trying to figure it out. And then, somebody that works at the gym comes over and just starts yelling at us, “Do it faster, go harder, do this, come over and do these weights.”
And, they're just constantly yelling at us, telling us we're doing a terrible job, telling us that we need to be doing more. Right? They would just be like screaming and yelling at us. No, it's pretty obvious to see in that situation that it's not really going to be helpful.
I mean, it might feel helpful or useful for a little bit of time and change might happen, but the change will not be sustainable. You can't ever hate yourself into change; at least, not long-term or sustainable change. So, in this situation, it's pretty obvious to see like, oh, well, we just wouldn't be okay with that. We wouldn't let that person just scream and yell at us all day.
But we have an inner critic inside all of us that is doing just that. We have what's called the negativity bias, which means there's a lot of negative thoughts that come into our brain more often than not. Now, there's an old, I don't know if you call it a poem or [laughs] whatever, a saying that I love that I feel like really fits in here. It's called The Two Wolves.
An old Cherokee was teaching his grandchildren about life. He said, “A battle is raging inside me…it is a terrible fight between two wolves. One wolf represents fear, anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority and ego. The other stands for joy, peace, love, hope, sharing, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, friendship, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.”
The old man looked at the children with a firm stare. “This same fight is going on inside you, and inside every other person, too.”
They thought about it for a minute, and then one child asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”
The old Cherokee replied: “The one you feed.”
So, why is that inner-critic wolf winning inside of us most of the time? It's because we feed it. We don't feed it on purpose. We have this negativity bias. We have the negativity bias because it's protective. It thinks that if it feeds us these thoughts, that it will somehow protect us; it'll keep us safe. It'll help conserve energy. It'll help us stay away from danger - even emotional, physical danger.
The problem is that it's kind of hyperactive. It's overlooking for problems. It's like seeking out those problems. It thinks that anything uncomfortable is dangerous, which doesn't really help us because growth is always coming through discomfort. We have to have discomfort in order to grow and to learn.
So, doing things in a new way is always going to take that energy. So, our brain is going to, you know, even be more hyperactive with these thoughts, telling us why we shouldn't be doing it, that it's going to, that we're going to fail, that we should just stop.
Shame versus Guilt
Another thing I want to dig into is Shame versus Guilt. I think a lot of us call it ‘mom guilt’, that's what I see probably most commonly spoken of. And, we all kind of understand, ‘oh yeah. Okay, mom guilt.’ What we're really saying is shame.
So, guilt is actually, “This behavior was wrong,” “Something that I did was wrong.” Versus shame, which is, “I am wrong,” “There's something about me that's wrong.”
I remember reading this years ago in one of Brené Brown’s books and it really hit me. I was like, ‘oh, that is a huge difference,’ and that is what the difference is. There is a big difference between shame and between guilt.
Guilt is behavior-based. It's extrinsic. Shame is intrinsic. There's something at the core, the root of me that is wrong. The other thing about shame is that shame always lies. There is truth and learning in guilt.
There can be, but there can't be in shame. Shame takes away the learning experience from us. I think of it as like a void. So, maybe something happens. Let's go back to the initial situation where my son doesn't listen to me six or seven times, and I'm super upset and I yell at him. And, I'm feeling bad.
I'm feeling that shame like, ‘Ugh, I'm ruining him. I did it again. I'm never going to figure this out.’ Right? Whatever the thoughts are that lead to shame. So, there's this kind of void; this distance between the reality there, the truth there, and then shame.
So, shame says things like, “I'm not enough,” “I'll never figure this out,” “I could be doing better,” “I should be doing better.” It's always rooted in that, I'm not enough, thought. When we stick in that and we feel that shame, it creates more shame and it doesn't allow us access to any of the learning.
On the other hand, if we can kind of go onto the other side of that void, where we kind of feel that pull of like, oh, you know, feeling that shame and feeling that upset. But we can also see, ‘okay, maybe there is some learning here, maybe there's a different way that I could view this.’
Whenever I go into the situation, I like to kind of process through that shame so that I'm not sticking in it. And, we're going to talk more about that in the future. And, for the learning part, I like to ask myself, what is my part in this? Looking at it, without shame as an observer; we can see what needs to change, we can see the learning opportunity that's in there.
Like I said, the shame takes away the learning from the experience. But when we can just move over to, what's my part in this, and look at it from that ‘observer perspective’, then we can see the learning there, and that can lead to growth and change.
The problem is that mom guilt/shame, I guess just guilt, in general, changes to shame in a hot second. It's like faster than I can snap my fingers, we change from guilt to shame. It's almost instantaneous. And then, the learning is out the door. We're back into the shame cycle, perpetuating more shame.
We can even feel shame about our shame as we start to learn more about shame. We can understand, ‘Oh, okay, well, I don't want to sit in that shame. I don't want to dwell in that shame.’ And then, we feel bad because we don't know how to get out of that shame, and we're feeling shame about our shame. We can just really layer it.
I have been in a deep dive on learning about shame for almost 12 months. I'm doing a program called Dare to Lead through Brené Brown and through one of her facilitators. And, it sounds all nice and leaderly, but really, it's digging into shame and how to be vulnerable and how to lean into those tough conversations with people that we always find ourselves avoiding.
So, it sounds really great and wonderful on the surface, but it really is that that deep inner work. So, I want to share five things that I've learned about shame from Brené Brown and from taking this course.
5 Lessons about Shame from Brené Brown and the Dare to Lead Course
- Number #1 is that everyone feels it.
95% of humans feel shame. And, she said that the other 5% are sociopaths. You might giggle at that, I definitely did, but it is true. What I thought was so interesting about that is that it immediately changed my perspective on shame.
I was like, ‘oh, okay, I'm human.’ So, now, sometimes when I feel shame, all I have to do is remind myself, “Okay, looks like I'm human again, nothing is wrong with me.” It actually helps me feel better and puts my humanity in check.
Going back to the model again, that we talked about, which is one of the main coaching tools I use with my clients. What's really changing in that moment is my thought, it's my perspective, my story on it.
“Maybe there isn't anything wrong with me like I thought there was.” “Maybe this is very normal.” “Maybe it's something that we all deal with.” It's helped me to view shame in a very different way.
- Shame turns to blame faster than you can blink.
So, sometimes I'll be talking to people and they'll be like, “No, I don't really-- I don't really resonate with that. I don't think I feel a lot of shame.” And then, as we start to talk, they're like, oh, it moves to blame so quickly that we don't even realize it.
So, going back to this example, again, I yell at my teacher-- I yell at my teacher. [laughs] I yell at my teenager because maybe I tell him to pick up his clothes, and I tell him to pick up his clothes, and I tell him to pick up his clothes. And, after the seventh time, I yell at him.
Right away, or maybe not so right away, I might feel bad for yelling, but almost instantly, I'm like, ‘Ooh, I don't like that feeling. I don't like that feeling of shame that I feel.’ I kind of feel it like deep in my stomach, and I'm like, ‘Ooh, that doesn't feel good.’ So, I start to think, this isn't conscious, right? I'm not doing this on purpose, but this is what's going on in my brain.
I start to notice why it's actually his fault; well, he should have listened. I gave him seven warnings. This is actually his fault because, you know, I told him yesterday, he already knows that this is his responsibility. I'm saying, him, because that's my experience; I have two boy-teenagers.
But in this situation, that shame can turn to blame almost instantly. Being aware of when this is happening to me, helps me to uncover my own shame triggers. So, now, I just notice it. I notice when I'm feeling that feeling of blame and I'm kind of starting to push it outwards. I'm like, ‘oh, okay, wait.’ I turn it back inwards, and I start to be a little bit more mindful.
What's really going on with me? Why am I feeling so triggered? Why am I feeling like I need to blame somebody else? What am I really thinking? What's really happening here? Whenever I notice it now, I see it as a sign of something that I can work at to heal. There is the biggest learning and growth, and the biggest change opportunities in covering our own triggers.
- Number #3 is what she calls ‘Shame Shields’.
The Shame Shields, she says, are based on the "strategies of disconnection" developed by Linda Hartling, at The Stone Center at Wellesley. Now, the reason I love these Shame Shields is because she has like visuals in our little book. So, it's like, here's a shield, here's a shield, here's a shield. And, I go back and like, remember that visual when this is happening.
- So, the first one is moving away.
So, we've talked about this one before – withdrawing, hiding, silencing ourselves, keeping secrets. For me, this would look like a lot of withdrawal and disconnect, maybe numbing out by going to like scroll social media or lock myself in my room, do my own thing. That's moving away. So, that's one way that we might respond to shame.
- Number #2 is moving toward; seeking to appease and please.
I also say this in myself a lot, right? This is a lot of that people-pleasing, like just going overboard to try and make them feel better so that then I don't have to feel that shame.
- Number #3 is moving against - trying to gain power over others, being aggressive, using shame to fight shame.
So, a lot of this might be some of the reactivity that we see. So, just understanding those and having the words and the descriptions there really helped me to put my shame in perspective and kind of see it as it was happening.
- Number #4 is it will never go away; it's here to stay.
As long as we have human brains and we aren't psychopaths, then we'll have it. The key is to learning how to become shame resilient. Shame resilient is feeling that shame, and processing through it, and learning from it, and moving on. My facilitator often talks about what she calls spiraled learning.
She said, “We used to think that learning was very linear, but now we know that learning is actually spiraled. We kind of go forward and then backward, and then forward and then backward; and over time, we learn. That is how learning often happens for us.
So, it's been really helpful to have a guide - several, actually, through this journey. For me, it's been really key to help me not get stuck in that shame for so long, but to be able to move on from it, process through it, and gain the learning from those experiences.
It's hard to see our own truth sometime. It's hard to see kind of outside the glass bottle that we're in. We're like inside this little bottle, and we're trying to view the world, and we don't realize that we're viewing the world in a little bit of a distorted way.
But when somebody else lifts up that bottle and they can see it from the outside, they can see exactly what's going on and they can see it better than we can. So, having these guides and supports, I've had several coaches and mentors and groomers that have helped me over the last year or more. And, that's been really helpful in my experience.
- Number #5, learning how to deal with shame has been huge.
Although it can be and will be a lifelong learning journey, it puts me in the best position to lead; to lead in my life, to lead in my home, to lead in my community - in my business.
It helps me to be more compassionate of others. It helps me to be more understanding and empathetic, and see things from others' perspectives. It is uncomfortable, but it's so worth the journey. It has been a huge journey for me and a huge learning experience, and it has been so worth it.
So, what I'm going to leave with you today is what I feel the antidote to shame is, and that is self-compassion. It has been that way for me and for several of my clients.
When I can move to the space of self-compassion from this space of shame, I'm able to parent more in the way that I want to, show up more in the world in the way that I want to, and feel that compassion naturally for the people around me. It pours into me and it just pours naturally into others, and I don't have to push or work at it so much.
Questions for You to Chew On
We're going to dig more into how to do this in next week's episode, but for now just chew on these questions; in what ways are you using self-critical or self-judgment thoughts against yourself, telling yourself that it'll push you to change or to momentum or to growth when really it might be doing the opposite? How is shame showing up for you?
Your brain might not want to go there. It might be a little bit uncomfortable. So, be really gentle with yourself. Do some thought-work journaling, remember that you can always rip apart, throw away, burn, whatever you want to do with your thought-work journaling. This is not something we have to keep forever and like pass down to future posterity.
This is just to help us process what's going on in our brain. So, how does shame show up for you? How might you be using some of your thoughts against yourself? And, how might your brain be telling you that it's going to help you change when really, it's actually doing the opposite?
I'm excited to dig further into this topic of shame that really needs to be brought to light. Like, one of the things that Brené says often is, “Shame is like gremlins. They love the dark. They increase and multiply in the dark.” And so, as we kind of pull them out into the light, that's how we can heal. That's how we can help others to heal by sharing our journey and sharing our experiences.
So, thank you for being here. I know this can be a really sensitive topic for all of us to be really vulnerable and to talk about these things. But I just wanted to mention that shame has really been huge in learning for me in my experience and in my journey, and that of my clients as well.
So, thanks for being here, and we'll see you next time. I hope you enjoyed today's episode. Make sure that you give it five stars on Apple, and check out my monthly membership for moms in the show notes.