Shame Resilience Theory: Identifying and Naming Shame

Shame Resilience Theory Identifying Shame 2

To apply a body scan to shame, we practice this by recalling a shame experience. I recommend starting with, say, a 4/10 shame experience; something strong enough that it elicits a nervous system response, but not so strong that we fry our nervous system and need something (like alcohol) to artificially bring us back down.

When we notice something that’s “off,” take note—what does the feeling feel like? Does it have a taste, a texture, a temperature, a sound, or a color? These sound like abstract descriptions of a physical feeling, and they are, but the more we can describe the feeling of shame for us, the better we become at noticing it in the future before it digs its way into our spirit. This description doesn’t need to even make sense to anyone else… just you.

For me, shame is red hot. It’s fuzzy, but in a steel wool kind of way. It has a tinny sound, that irritating sound that just barely registers. It makes my feet sweat, my stomach drop, and my fight/flight/freeze/fawn system kick into high gear. I feel it as a pressure in my chest, a suffocating feeling that feels insurmountable. I know when I feel these things, that I am experiencing something as a shame experience and am at high risk of letting it wreck me. (But instead, I do steps 2-4 of the Shame Resilience Theory and nip it in the bud.)

See how this helps us move forward?

When we’re able to name it, to identify it, not only can we notice it in the future, but we can better recognize when an old shame experience is coming up for us with intensity. In the past, perhaps we shut these feelings (both physical and emotional) down with booze, and maybe that perpetuated our shame. Instead, we can use the SRT to work through it in productive ways and build resilience.

Today, consider how shame manifests in your body. Perhaps try our body scan with a Level 4 (of 10) shame experience—recall the memory, allow your body to be slightly activated, find the shame, and put words to it. (And then soothe your nervous system through something adaptive, like a guided meditation, a walk around the block, or a hug from someone you love.) What descriptors do you use to describe shame?

Brown, B. (2013, January.) Shame v. guilt. Brené Brown.

Selva, J. (2020, September.) Shame Resilience Theory: How to Respond to Shame. Positive Psychology.