Question of the Day: “How do I recognize shame?”

Shame is a terribly strong emotion. Unless you know what it looks like and how it negatively plays out in your life, there is a chance it will act as a detriment as opposed to a learning tool for personal growth. But how can you recognize shame and use it to improve your life?

Shame, as defined by Brene Brown, is “an intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.” Brene Brown is a leading shame and vulnerability researcher. She has spent much of her career trying to help people understand the logistics behind all of those big emotions: love, vulnerability, shame, guilt. She has written a number of great books about the subject:

My own battle with shame arises from a childhood of abuse, abandonment and neglect. I feel it creep into my day when I start to hear myself thinking things like,

“This kitchen floor is so dirty. Why can’t I keep it clean? My mom’s kitchen never looks like this. What must people think about me when they come into this house?”

“Another crease on my forehead. Did I always have so many? I should take better care of my skin. I don’t do enough or drink enough water. I am so inconsistent with my own health.”

In these moments, I literally must force myself to stop the abuse. It is so tough to stop because underneath the negative thoughts and words is a feeling of need. It is a deep seeded need to continue the thread so I learn and I become better, and then maybe, just maybe I will be worthy.

Worthy of what, you may ask, or maybe you already know. Brene Brown knows. She says that we all search for a sense of love and belonging. Deep down each one of us craves this and it causes us to seek others. It is a constant searching and craving for love. In these moments when I berate myself for not cleaning enough or not staying young looking, I am telling myself that doing things correctly are what makes me loveable. Even as I write these words on the page, I can feel the truth of them. There is a layer of me that believes this thought, but now, through meditation, mindfulness and self-awareness, I know there are other layers to me now.

In these moments of spiraling now, I can tell myself these things are not true. I seek out my mat and try and process the feelings of shame to remind myself I am the creator of these thoughts and feelings. I remind myself that shaming is never a way I would motivate my children or my students, and ask myself why do I think it is what is keeping me moving.

For those of you who want to examine the role shame plays in your own life, I recommend this TED talk below. Here Brene Brown will explain in much better terms what negative effects shame can have on your life and the people around you, and she also gives some good tips for how to identify it before it’s too late.

Shame is an unspoken epidemic, the secret behind many forms of broken behavior. Brené Brown, whose earlier talk on vulnerability became a viral hit, explores what can happen when people confront their shame head-on. Her own humor, humanity and vulnerability shine through every word.

This talk was presented at an official TED conference, and was featured by our editors on the home page.

Love and Light in our constant journey through this life!

Photo by Oleg Magni on