Shame Resilience Theory: Identifying and Naming Shame

Shame Resilience Theory Identifying Shame

Shame Resilience Theory is a theory pioneered by Dr. Brene Brown, through years of what we call “qualitative research.” When we consider the idea of “research” we typically think of numbers and graphs, but did you know that we actually have vast fields of research that are all about ideas and experiences? Qualitative research considers individual stories—our experiences, thoughts, and feelings—and thus, we are capable of studying the ins and outs of shame.

SRT is a four-parter, with tangible, concrete steps that help us work through past shame experiences (which we have likely already internalized), and build resilience against future shame experiences (so that they internalize as guilt instead of shame). The first step of this theory, an important piece for even understanding shame, is to practice identifying and naming shame.

When we speak of shame, what comes to mind for you? Are you able to put language to it, describe it in words, feel it in your body? If not, that’s a normal experience—very few of us are attuned to our physical and emotional bodies well enough to notice when we’re feeling something, let alone be able to put it into words. But if we can’t name an evil, how are we ever expected to overcome it?

When we attempt to tackle shame, we begin by finding it in the body. We know that shame often manifests  in the body—as Brene says, it’s a “full contact emotion” that we first feel in our head and then feel in our body. Tension, stress response, physical injuries—any of these can be precipitated by shame. When our stomach drops, when our palms break out into a sweat, when we get that terrible feeling in our stomach. It’s truly one of the more complex emotions for this reason; it begins as an emotion, and then often manifests as a physical feeling. But how do we find a thing that we can’t even describe at first?

My favorite way to begin this process is through a tool we’ve talked about before: the body scan. A body scan is a simple, accessible mindfulness tool, where we slowly plug into every corner of our body from top to bottom. I like to begin at my crown, or the top of my head, and work my way down. Just noticing, paying attention to what’s there, with no judgement or opinion about the result—we call this idea “nonjudgement.” Did I find that there’s tension in my forehead? That’s interesting. What else?