Saturday, March 17, 2012

Listening to Shame

I have seen a number of good talks from TED, but this one spoke to me more strongly than any other I've heard yet. In this powerful video Brené Brown addresses the issues of shame and vulnerability. "Vulnerability is not weakness" she states emphatically. In fact, she declares, "vulnerability is our most accurate measurement of courage." She adds, "Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change."

I appreciated how she addressed the difference in the way men and women experience shame. Both feel shame. According to her, only sociopaths don't experience shame. "For women," she says, "shame is: do it all, do it perfectly and never let 'em see you sweat....Shame for women is this web of unattainable, conflicting, competing expectations about who you are supposed to be." I can see this in the lives of the women I know, though of course I cannot verify it from my own personal experience. I would love to hear from women how they respond to what she says about shame.

I resonated with her comments about shame and men. At first, starting at 16:28 in the video she tells us, she didn't study shame in men, until a man challenged her one time at a book signing. This man, in her words, pointed to his wife and daughters nearby and told Brown, "They'd rather see me die on my white horse than watch me fall down.When we reach out and be vulnerable, we get the shit beat out of us. And don't tell me it's by the guys and coaches and dads, because the women in my life are harder on me than anyone else."

"For men," Brown states, "shame is one: do not be perceived as weak." That's so true. Thankfully I have a wife who does not really behave as the man in the bookstore described, but our culture puts all sorts of pressure on us, both from men and women, not to be weak, not to be vulnerable. This leaves us wearing masks, projecting images of "manliness" but cuts us off from real relationship and, for many of us at least, from expressing our inner self. We live in shame because I think all men feel weak at some point, in some area of their lives. But our society doesn't want us to show it. And this is more often than not true in the Church just as much as it is in society in general.

"Empathy is the antidote to shame," Brown concludes. As we step out and offer ourselves in vulnerability, we open the door to empathy. Unfortunately we also open the door to ridicule and mockery. But as we receive empathy and offer it to one another, we can overcome the shame that tells us we are mistakes, that we are unworthy, that we are failures.

What are your thoughts on this video? How have you felt shame in your life?


  1. Shame says, "Who do you think you are?"

    Thats so me!!! REally loved this video. Thanks for sharing Andrew!!


    1. I hear you Micky! And I can so relate. This video spoke so strongly to me. I'm glad you loved it too. I'm working to not let shame control my life and being in trusting community with others is a really helpful step.