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  • Writer's pictureJamsheed Hamza

Debunking Shame

What is shame?

According to Brene Brown, a researcher at University of Houston, who studied shame for over 20 years and with over 400,000 data points, she defines shame as an intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore, unworthy of love and belonging. It is a feeling that all of us go through.

How does shame show up in our life?

There are different thoughts that tell us that we are going through this emotion of shame which include the feeling of hopeless, weak, worthless, unlovable, ugly, broken, flawed, pathetic and depressed. Actions that show up as shame is blaming, bullying, comparison, cover-ups, discrimination, harassment, the invisible army, and perfectionism.

How can we start dealing with shame?

3 things to remember is awareness, awareness, and awareness. First awareness is the fact that all of us have it. Shame is universal and one of the most primitive human emotions that we experience. Awareness number two is that we are afraid to speak about shame. Even hearing the word shame is very uncomfortable. Awareness number 3, the less we talk about shame, the more control it has over our lives.

Physiology of Shame

As part of debunking shame, let’s dive deeper. Let’s understand the physiology of shame. I would strongly recommend you to introspect as you read and if possible, take a note of it. When shame attack comes in our life, it’s almost the same hormones that are produced when we have a stress attack. So, when shame comes in, you can understand it from the physical symptoms you go through – you have a sweaty palm, or a pit in the stomach, a heavy heart, or a foggy mind. It can be any other symptoms too. But you will know it once you gain the critical awareness of what you are feeling physically. Understanding the symptoms help you to understand that you are in a shame situation. Second is, how do you feel when shame comes in? When shame comes in, for some, you are frozen. For some, you feel as if you have shrunk into an atom or for some others, it is a point of running away and just jumping out of your body. So, try to understand how you feel when shame comes in your life. Lastly, the most difficult part when shame comes in, is to talk about shame. How do you feel when you want to talk about shame? It maybe to your boss, to anyone that you want to speak to, but that feeling is something that stops you from talking. So, try to find out the best person to talk to when shame attack comes in.

The Shame Shields

People basically use 3 Shame Shields. When we talked about the hormones that is produced when shame attack comes in, we said there are 3 modes that we do, similar to the stress attack, which is flight, fight or freeze. Similarly, for shame, the concept of shame shield says that people basically use 3 types of shields – the shield of “moving away”, the shield of “moving towards”, and the shield of “moving against”. The use of shield of moving away is evident when you go silent, when you keep quiet, when you don’t talk back. Moving towards is a shield where you try to please the person that you are talking to or interacting with. The approach that you do is moving towards them, try to please them. And, the last shield that we use is moving against. There, you try to attack the person, you become more aggressive to that person. Which shame shield do you use? And in which situation do you use those shields?

Shame and relationships

The use of shields is dependent on the relationship quadrant that the person fall into. To make it easy, you can look at it from 2 angles – one, is the importance of those people in our life and second is the power that they hold. Based on this matrix of power and importance, we have four quadrants –

  1. important and powerful

  2. important and powerless

  3. unimportant and powerful

  4. unimportant and powerless

How do you react to people who are important in your life but powerless? The best example to look into is our children. Just have an introspection about how we deal with them. Since many a times they fall into important and powerless, people mostly use the moving against shield? Right?

And, when you look into people in your life, who are important and powerful, what is the mode of reaction that you take? Is it the moving towards shield when you are dealing with important and powerful people in your life?

A better understanding of the above factors, help us to have a better understanding and thereby build courage to deal with people when shame shows up.


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