Brené Brown (Ph. D., LMSW) focuses on our experiences of vulnerability and shame in her book “Daring Greatly” (2012). Brown defines shame as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging”. Feelings we hide, feelings that terrify us, and make us feel small and rotten.
One of her quotes about how men experience shame and vulnerability really struck me. Even as she wrote about men and women experiencing these emotions similarly, and recognizing we all have shame, we are often given gender specific ideas about how we should experience this difficult emotion. Men are given the message to – at all costs “do not be perceived as weak”. Men are permitted to support, hold, and be with women in their experiences of shame, but do we as a society allow men the same honour. Do we give men the room to also say ‘this is hard’, ‘I messed up’, or ‘I’m scared’.
- We all have shame.
- We are all afraid to talk about our shame.
- The less we talk about our shame, the more control it has over our lives.
As Brown mentions, there is a relief to the intense shame we feel when we realize, ‘I’m not alone’, ‘I am not the only who experiences this’. A realization that often comes through honest, loving conversation and connection. It’s the feeling you get after a conversation with a friend and you walk away thinking ‘they get it, I’m not alone.’ There is deep connection in this, and something we can utilize, ultimately decreasing our and their shame, while opening up and strengthening connection.
With the focus on men’s health in November, let me leave you with a few challenging questions to ponder in your own life:
- What are the perceptions you live out about how and if men should show their experiences of shame?
- Men, do you feel there is room in your relationships to share your vulnerability and shame, giving you the potential to lessen the control it has in your life, and feel connection through honest conversation?
- Women, do you provide real space and nonjudgmental conversation to the men in your life to share their shame?
Karyn is a Registered Psychologist, who primarily practices from a Cognitive Behavioural perspective. She received training from Dr. David Burns, and loves collaborating with her clients to find the thoughts and actions creating obstacles in their lives, and leading them through steps to test if these thoughts and actions are true and helpful.
- Brown, B. (2012.) . Daring Greatly: How the courage to be vulnerable transforms the way we love, love, parent and lead.. New York: Avery