The Shame Project

The Shame Project – Identifying Shame

Women have described various physical reactions to shame, including stomach tightening, nausea, shaking, waves of heat in their faces and chests, wincing and twinges of smallness…

~Brene Brown I Thought it was Just Me…

Early on in my shame journey I did a small exercise to try and figure out how I experience shame. In reading Brene Brown’s book, I was shocked to discover that her list of how women feel shame seemed to include most of the ways I feel shame as well. My mind was completely blown. I actually had to stop reading the book and get ahold of my bearings. For years and years and years I was convinced that something was wrong with me, that I was having serious anxiety attacks, and that I was broken in some way, when all along what I’ve been experiencing are the manifestations of shame.

By far, the most common way that I feel shame is through anxiety. I have been formally experiencing anxiety for about 10 years. Looking back, however, I’ve realized that I have been feeling the anxiety/shame since at least age 12, if not earlier. I know that I probably meet the criteria for a generalized anxiety disorder: I worry too much about things I shouldn’t worry about, and I do have anxiety attacks, but they are generally provoked by something (and now I realize that something is often shame). The anxiety I feel in relation to shame, however, is different than the “normal anxiety.” I’m not sure how I can accurately describe how the shame anxiety is different… maybe it’s not. Maybe all my anxiety attacks are shrouded with shame. I wrote a descriptive narrative about the feelings of anxiety I had as I waited one day to talk to K. I remember this day clearly. A lot of shit was going on in my life. I needed someone to talk to and I wasn’t sure who to go to. I felt ashamed for going to talk to her about it, and that was the source of my “anxiety” (shame) that day.

Other ways that I experience shame aren’t quite as dramatic as a full out anxiety attack, but I feel them all the time. I feel twinges in my chest, like I’ve momentarily lost my breath or my heart has jumped out of place. I wince, most often when I recount things I’ve said or done that I don’t like or that I regret. I recount events and encounters or conversations in my head and tell myself I’m stupid. I feel small, physically small, like a child – 6 years old, to be exact. I my moments of smallness I feel like I’m a pest, or like I need to be babysat, or that I’m just in the way… like I have nothing valuable to add to any situation or relationship.

That’s all just shame. I never realized it before I read this book and now I see it all the time. My day is riddled with feelings and manifestations of shame. It’s no wonder I am having such a hard time breaking out of the pattern. And, just because I can recognize the shame doesn’t mean that I don’t experience it just as much. Sometimes I try to stop my feeling by telling myself, “this is shame… stop shaming yourself!” and sometimes it works. I might not stop it all the time, but I’ve at least thought about how I feel shame and what I feel shame about. I’ll save the exploration of my shame triggers and vulnerabilities for another post, but I can say with confidence that I am feeling successful in the first endeavour of overcoming shame – Recognizing Shame and identifying it as such.

Do you want to participate in The Shame Project? Visit this post and share some of the shame you experience.


3 thoughts on “The Shame Project – Identifying Shame

  1. I love this book so much and am rereading it now. I like how she explains how the same event can trigger shame, guilt or humiliation at different points in our lives. I’ve experienced that very much with my weight. For many years, if I gained a few pounds, I just felt guilty or maybe kind of embarrassed but at this point in my life I feel very ashamed and like it means I’m a bad person not just that I’ve had bad habits lately. That’s about the only example of shame I’m willing to share openly here, but needless to say, I experience it often!


    1. I’m glad to hear that you’re re-reading this book. I think it is one that I’ll come back to many times. I also like how she explains the difference between shame, guilt, and humiliation and how some people will experience one more than the other. For me, I find that the exact same experience can cause me to feel different emotions just based on who’s around, who finds out about it, or where it happens. Funny how our emotions work, hey?


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