So Hard To Shake: The Challenge of Releasing Shame

In light of our recent discussion about Guilt and Regret, as in looking back unproudly on something you did or didn’t do at work, or as in the remorse you may feel when spending too much time on career and not enough with family, it’s become evident that releasing such pent-up feelings is a wise move if you’re going to allow yourself the chance to live in the present. My related article Come Clean With Yourself: Releasing Guilt and Regret demonstrates how the present is where accomplishment lives, and that it’s up to you to relinquish your ties to the negative past and unknowable future in order to achieve career advancement.

The journey toward the present continues, this time with a good, hard look at Shame. This state of mind is even more challenging to release than Guilt and Regret since it is rooted in a fixed mindset, making it urgent to understand it wholly. Explore with me the humanity behind shame, and the dangers of letting it take over your career.

The Mindset of Shame

Shame is the result of a judgment made about one’s core essence. It originates in childhood with condemnation, ridicule and rejection— the criticizing of a young person’s being instead of a revealing of the person’s behavioral errors. In adulthood, the state of Shame is living the mindset of, “My potential was carved in stone at birth, Therefore, I am a failure, since my intelligence, personality and character are predetermined.” It’s the helpless feeling that “there’s no hope for me”. Worse still, neuroscientific research shows that the pain of rejection that Shame inflicts is as real as physical pain, unlike with guilt and regret, which can be managed with the growth mindset.

Shame’s Role In The Workplace

Thanks to our negativity biases and our inner critics, the modern workplace is also fertile ground for shame to grow. Shame equals “I am not good”, and it spreads like a rash in workplaces with toxic cultures. You’ve seen it before: In certain situations, with specific colleagues, you can think quickly and creatively, thereby accomplishing your goals, while in other scenarios with people you feel uneasy around, you perpetually second-guess yourself and accomplish less. That latter cast of characters is the one that aids and abets your inner critic to spark and grow Shame.

This scenario has become more common in the age of productivity. Digital connectivity provides the space for more responsiveness without guaranteeing effectiveness. Your colleague can answer you punctually, but if she’s in a rush, she can come off as harsh and rude. You’re then liable to process her message in a way that prompts you to feel “less than”. It’s the reason why 9 out of ten conversations miss their mark, and why they diminish a well-meaning professional’s confidence in the process.

Stop Putting Yourself In Your Place

The command-and-control method of management might seem like a relic of the 20th century, but in reality, it still marches on, yielding a new travesty: Fear-and-consequences. We don’t quite realize when we’re internalizing criticisms, but we’re painfully aware that we do. It seems there’s no option but to “suck it up” and “deal with it” if you want to be a part of corporate America. The saying, “It’s not personal, it’s business” is only a sliver of the real story, because it is personal. The other ugly head of shame is the self-critical “Who do you think you are?”, as if you were undeserving or not fit for advancement. It’s called putting yourself into your place, and it’s the role of the inner critic, who doesn’t see all of the impressive things you do every day both large and small.

The Re-Lease: A Four-Step Antidote to Shame

Don’t be afraid to remind yourself that you are resourceful and resilient. With a little ingenuity, you will make progress towards managing the challenges of shame. Use these four steps to get yourself there in an effective manner:

Defy The Impostor: Acknowledge that you bring worth to your job, and that you’re always learning on the job. And remember that shame’s power is built on silence. When you personalize and internalize a perceived jab by someone, it’s often not recognized for what it is: a small dose of shame, which can contribute to diminished confidence over time, not because the shame is warranted, but because it’s a conclusion you’ve come to. A Confidence Journal comes in handy here, as it will muzzle the impostor and put your shame into perspective.

Avoid Making Assumptions: In the age of digital communication, we often assume the worst. Email and texting in particular add to our shame in a big way, as tone and expression translate poorly through these mediums, resulting in us misconstruing neutrality for negativity. When in doubt, pick up the phone. Instead of shutting down, ask questions for clarification. You may be surprised at how off-base you were in your initial assumptions.

Create Your Own “Board of Directors”: Don’t keep quiet when you feel shamed by colleagues. Utilize your internal network and speak about it. Brene Brown says “The less you talk about it, the more you got it. Shame needs three things to grow exponentially in our lives: secrecy, silence and judgment.” Our perfectionist selves want to horde the dirty little secret of “I’m a failure and I don’t deserve to be here”. But speaking up and naming it before certain people takes power away from shame. And when you surround yourself with people you aspire to be like, you’ll have a safe audience with which to share advice and support.

Show Yourself Some Compassion: Dr Kristin Neff says that self-compassion is “treating yourself with the same kind of kindness, care, and compassion as you would treat those you care about— your good friends, your loved ones.” Keep in mind also that shame festers when we forget that people often walk around in-trance and say things to you without thinking. Over time, that adds up to you feeling “less than”. Call out shame, accept that you’re imperfect, and learn from and share with others.

It’s the times when we want to bury our heads in the sand that we can learn the most about how to better navigate our world. When it comes to feelings of shame, be courageous. When you acknowledge your shortcomings, you can go ahead and embrace your humanity!

If you enjoy what you’re reading and are considering living life more fully, schedule a complimentary consultative session with DRIVEN HERE.