The Size of Shame

Everything I have learned about shame, I learned from Brene Brown. Shame is an emotion I had very little knowledge about nor even a basic awareness of its existence in my life. I remember listening to Brene Brown’s teaching “Men, Women, and Worthiness” back in 2010. My husband and I were on a road trip and decided to listen to it. It was pretty life changing and marriage changing to say the least but I remember feeling like I couldn’t relate while listening. I didn’t think much of it then but then a few hardships hit our life like a bird to a clean glass window and we went running back to the content of that teaching. The second time we listened to it, it absorbed a bit deeper and I began to understand more for my husband then for myself. It took me almost 8 years after that initial teaching to understand how shame worked in my life and the most helpful way I am able to recognize it now is that shame has a particular size for me. 


Shame makes me feel small. 

Shame keeps me small.

This feeling is visceral; Like my insides tell me to go crouch in a dark corner somewhere and come out when it’s safe.

This visceral feeling first appeared through a horrendous relationship I had in college. I mean it was bad: Manipulation, secrecy, silence, trying to end it and him telling me he’d change – the worst. I will spare you the details but it took almost 5 years after that situation for me to recognize the feeling I carried through my life was of this tiny girl, huddled in a dark corner, weak and afraid was shame. She was weak and small, and made me feel small.

Why am I telling you all this? Because I think it’s vital for us to recognize shame and how it manifests in our life. It’s vital for us to enable healthy boundaries, take care of our emotional health, and show up in our life. So now, almost 16 years later, I have been strengthening my ability to recognize when someone or something makes me feel small. When this feeling happens, I need to pay attention. 

WARNING! Danger Ahead! 

When this happens, there are three ways I can deal with it:

  1. I can either puff up and fight back with anger.
  2. I can stay small and let it paralyze me, or flee, like from a burning building.
  3. I can stay in my rightful size.

For many years, I oscillated between the first two because shame makes us go into our “fight or flight” mode. The brain doesn’t know the difference between real danger and just a shitty boss, it only recognizes shame/danger. 

A few years back, a former employer had sent me an email concerning my timecard while I was on vacation with my family. Apparently, I had put too much time on it because she didn’t consider something “payable”. The email could have been a simple correction but instead it was a lecture. I remember reading that email (I should have had my phone turned off , I was on vacation!) while playing cards with my family. Once I read it, my face turned hot, I saw in tunnel vision, and I looked at my mother in-law who later told me she recognized my physical response of shame from across the table! “Run and hide!” was my initial reaction only to fight it later in the worst resignation experience of my life. That single email made me feel small. I felt it, recognized it, and had very little practice in dealing with it well. I processed it and attempted to talk it over with my employer. It still never felt truly resolved. Which was why along with many other reasons I ended up leaving that job.

Finding my rightful size

When I am in my rightful size, I am courageous and generous and more compassionate towards myself and others. My behavior isn’t fueled by anxiety but grounded in peace. A stillness. Like a calm sea on which I feel steady in my boat, able to row in whatever direction I need to. This doesn’t mean that I am not fighting off the temptations to puff up or shrink but I am at least fighting those tendencies and NOT the actual person who is making me feel a certain way. Being in my rightful size means drawing healthy boundaries and growing in emotional health by whatever means (counseling, books, personality tests, close friends who tell me what’s up). I know what my rightful size feels like because I have felt what it doesn’t. I hate to say this but we primarily begin to recognize our rightful size through painful experiences. This unavoidable. We are human, we are going to be vulnerable and feel pain but we can learn from it, discovering along the way what our rightful size is. We gain strength that allows us to stand in our rightful size without running away or bulldozing those around us. It’s possible. I promise. I also fail at this still all the time. And so it becomes a practice of recognizing, getting up, dusting yourself off, and trying again. 

How to Stand in your Right Size

  1. Recognize shame and how it manifests in your life
    • How does it feel in your body?
    • What are the messages that fuel shame for you?
  2. Name that SOB and move through it.
    • Brene Brown talks about how important it is to name shame. To call it what it is, drag its ass out into the light and expose it to a healthy dose of empathy. 
    • Draw Boundaries – this is being compassionate with yourself and others
    • Introspection – take time to journal, cry, scream, run, meditate – do whatever you can to move through it in a healthy way. 
  3. Find a motto, mantra, or scripture that is helpful in those moments
    • Brene Brown uses “Don’t puff up. Don’t Shrink. Stand your ground” – love this!
    • For me I envision a large strong tree. That tree was planted there by the Creator. This also makes me think of Psalm 1.
  4. Process with your people
    • Who are your safe friends and family you can talk with?
    • Would counseling be helpful in this situation where you can process past hurts?

If you need help with discovering your right size today to enable you to move forward in your life, I’m now taking on a few more coaching clients. Just having someone ask the right questions can be more helpful than you know!

Photo by Dose Media on Unsplash

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Hey friend! I'm excited to meet you! I live in Portland, OR and completely love city life. My hubby and I have been married for over 14 years and still completely adore each other. I am a Jesus follower who is passionate about building up the local church and developing healthy communities. It's so nice of you to stop by! So grab a coffee or a glass of wine, and hang out a bit.

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