As shame washes over us, it leaves us innately fearful and vulnerable in some of the worst kind of ways. Shame means we are inherently disconnected and it leaves us feeling intrinsically unworthy, and whether those shameful feelings are even vindicated is beside the point. We may feel shamed when there is no reason at all to be ashamed. But much of the shame response comes from deep within and it is caused whenever we feel disconnected socially.
So, whenever we feel out of place socially – in any context, whether it is in our leisure, or at the workplace, or even at home – we are experiencing shame. That is, those feelings of deep unworthiness, which are inside all of us, because of our disconnection. When we are feeling such shame we cannot really add value the way we would like to; we are incapable of it; the faculties of confidence are shaken too far.
One of the keys of life, then, is to become aware when we feel disconnected and to be able to receive God’s empathy in that moment, for:
“Empathy is the antidote to shame.”
— Brené Brown
Brené Brown is a researcher in the area of vulnerability and shame, and she has empirical data that proves the principle: empathy can ameliorate shame.
Receiving the healing we need in the moment, having felt that heinous warm wash of shame all over us, having felt dirty because it, is achieved when we receive that empathy of God. Essentially, we need to connect with God in the moment, by hearing him say something positive and reassuring. This is where a vibrant and prayerful relationship with God is most beneficial.
Only having connected with God can we be healed of shame. But, of course, God often provides a wise guide, a counsellor, a mentor, or a therapist who can issue us the empathy we need. Such empathy is the acceptance of us, in and within ourselves, no matter what we have done or how lowly we see ourselves.
The simple empathic fact is we are all acceptable people. It doesn’t matter the shame we carry. In God’s sight we are white as snow because of our Saviour.
It’s helpful to understand that shame is a much broader emotional response than feeling ashamed. We feel guilt for the wrong we have done or the right we have not done, but we feel shame because of the unworthiness we feel; because of who we are. Shame is a direct attack on our personhood.
Shame is the emotional manifestation we experience for feeling relationally disconnected, which translates into feelings of unworthiness. But empathy is the antidote to shame. This is why the best therapists are known for their emotional safety, which translates into unconditional acceptance for their clients.
© 2014 S. J. Wickham.
Acknowledgement: to Brené Brown – Listening to Shame.