The Power of Shame

Shame is a pit in the ground. When you’re young, if your shames are small, then the pit starts out shallow. If your shames are large, then the pit starts out deep and dark. But no matter how it starts, over the course of our lives, all of the shame we experience makes the pit bigger, deeper, and darker.

For years, I admitted to myself only the shallow shames, the ones that kept me up at night, but not the ones that kept me silent. I compartmentalized my shame, convinced myself that there was no shame in my past that I needed to face. And then one day, an issue in my marriage brought me face to face with a shame experience from my past that I had never faced before.

I started exploring shame in counseling and I started reading Brene Brown’s book, I Thought It Was Just Me: Women Reclaiming Power and Courage in a Culture of Shame. Brown writes, “Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of acceptance and belonging.”

Once I started talking about the experiences that made me feel shame, my feelings of shame increased exponentially. I explained it to my husband like this, I had begun by shining light onto one experience in my pit of shame, but inevitably this light uncovered other shame experiences and now I have to face them all.

At first glance, this feels like a terrible thing. I am more symptomatic, in more pain, then I was before this whole thing started. I am experiencing increased anxiety, loss of time, and out of body feelings. But I have to believe that in the end working through these shame experiences will result in becoming a healthier and more emotionally integrated person.

Brown’s brook is a crash course in shame management and developing resilience. She writes, “We cannot grow when we are in shame, and we can’t use shame to change ourselves or others.” We must process and resolve our shame in order to grow into the better versions of ourselves we all want to be.

We can help each other do that by listening compassionately and empathically to each other’s stories without letting our own fear and shame get in the way. Brown explains, “If empathy is the skill or ability to tap into our own experiences in order to connect with an experience someone is relating to us, compassion is the willingness to be open to this process.”

I encourage you to stretch your empathy muscles toward yourself and your loved ones today. The world needs more of it.

A Hiking Detour

We went hiking in Bear Canyon this weekend at the Sabino Canyon Recreation Area.


Because of all the rain on Friday, there was a lot of water running (at least by Tucson standards). There were six and a half of us.


We hiked two miles into the canyon and then stopped to let the “half” get out of the stroller and run around. Then half of us went back to the car and the other half (including E) went on to Seven Falls.

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I am very much a couch potato. I both work and relax on the couch and I don’t get out much. It’s been a couple of years since E and I did any hiking and this brand of hiking (which was mostly pavement and smooth trail) was a (mostly) good way to ease into it. Four miles was pretty ambitious for me. I can walk four flat miles no problem, but walking up and down the hills was a stretch. I was very glad that we went with a one year old so I had an excuse to turn back once we reached the turn off for the two and a half mile hike to Seven Falls. It does look beautiful though.

Hiking with a group of people is always anxiety inducing for me. Since I wouldn’t call myself a hiker and I clearly don’t get much exercise, hiking with anyone other than E means I worry about slowing everyone down or ruining the trip for everyone when I can’t keep going. Before we went, I told E he wasn’t allowed to leave me to walk alone at the back of the group. Though of course, once we started walking I felt guilty about that because it meant he didn’t get to walk and talk with his friends. They weren’t very far ahead of us at all, but even a few feet makes it difficult to have a conversation.

I kept up as best as I could and shushed E every time he asked me if I was okay. I hate drawing attention to myself in situations like this. I don’t want everyone to know that I’m struggling. The weather was beautiful and I really wanted to enjoy being outside, but the anxiety and shame of dragging everyone down made it really difficult to enjoy the walk. I powered through to the point where the group split, and the walk back to the car was much more enjoyable (despite the scorching sun). Knowing we were on our way to being done and having an idea of exactly how far we had to go was a big boost to my morale.

I’m glad I went, but am reminded of why I usually say no to these kinds of things. Too much pressure.