Shame is an experience that does not exclude anyone. Shame is universal. However, the less shame is discussed, the more control it is given into our lives. Brené Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, discusses the thought of shame being “the fear of disconnection”. Psychologically and theologically, as humans, we are designed and engineered for love and belonging. Brené Brown continues further by elaborating that shame is “the fear that something we’ve done or failed to do, an ideal that we’ve not lived up to, or a goal that we’ve not accomplished makes us unworthy of connection”.
While studying cognition and behavior in my collegiate studies, Dr. Linda Hartling, a theorist and director of Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies, wrote about the process of experiencing and reacting to shame. Individuals may choose to retreat by withdrawing, seeking to appease or please others, or even becoming oppositional in order to gain power over others. Nevertheless, all of the previously listed observations by Dr. Hartling move us further away from authentically connecting with others.
Some suggestions that challenge our shame include practicing courage, positive self-talk, and owning our stories. By practicing courage individuals can begin to learn how to fight shame and honor their true self by sharing their experiences with individuals who they trust. Incorporating positive self-talk further removes negative and discouraging thoughts and instills statements of love and respect. By owning your story, you are providing the chance to create how you believe your story ought to end and be remembered. Carl Jung, a Swiss psychiatrist and the founder of analytical psychology, stated, “I am not what has happened to me. I am what I choose to become”.
Therefore, in contrast to shame being a force of disconnection, empathy is a form of connecting. Empathy is the act of connecting to an emotion that someone has experienced nevertheless; it does not require that we have the exact same experience(s) as the person sharing their story. We are unique individuals with unique stories. In order to build a connection with other individuals empathy is essential. Empathy is a beautiful and powerful action that involves active listening, expelling judgment, providing authentic emotions, and loving communication.