Brene Brown, Ph.D. has become one of my favorite lecturers and writers on the human condition. Her work on vulnerability and shame is powerful and accessible. You can see her TED profile & talks here.
In this short clip, a part of a longer interview you can connect to here, Dr. Brown discusses the nature of shame and its dangerous implications on human development.
She discusses how shame can be at the root of anti-social behavior (violence and bullying) partly because messages of shame are about the self. She differentiates Shame from Guilt, often a positive experience and motivator to remorse and growth, by noting that guilt is about behavior (bad things I’ve done) rather than about the self (I am a bad person, thus worthy of shame). Shame is disconnecting and corrosive; guilt is motivating to foster re-connection.
She goes on to discuss how “connection gives purpose and meaning to life.” She puts Shame & Empathy on opposite ends of a spectrum of Connectivity. When one is fully and well connected to others, one can feel empathy and receive empathy. One can use this experience to find resiliency in vulnerability to pursue positive change. When one experiences shame, especially in their vulnerability, they are less likely to benefit from connective empathy – they may be more disconnected and act out more negatively.
When we explore how we react when feeling vulnerable, we can anticipate our behaviors and what impacts they have on us. Do we retreat, become defensive or bombastic? When we understand our vulnerability and can sit in it, can reside in its uncertainty, and remain strong in our selves, we can pursue connection and support to fortify our resilience. Connection with others, with a comfort in vulnerability, empowers us to positive change and growth.