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Shame Game

A lot of conversation happens during a tattoo session. Alan and I talked about our life stories and at one point we got into a discussion about the subject of shame. I told him to read one of Brené Brown’s books but he balked at the thought of sitting still with a book. Brené is the shame subject frigging queen, and I hate that her message might not reach people that would love it.

I’m going to paraphrase her message in Suzy-form, which is most humble because Brené says it best, so please, go listen to her audiobooks, watch her Ted Talk, GO NOW. But if you can’t or if you won’t, at least stick with me here for a bloody second, will you? Maybe it will help you. You never know. Grab some wine, lavender essential oil, your cat, or whatever you’ve got going on that helps you stretch your brain a bit.

First, imagine shame to be a thing…like a dark fog you can feel on your skin and in your lungs, where it’s cold, convoluted and damp. Or a hot blanket that suffocates, squelches, restricts. Hold onto that image.

While guilt points at what we’ve done, shame points at who we are. We shit the bed and guilt says, “Look at that mess!” while shame says, “Look at that piece of shit sitting in that mess!” So that shame, (picture the fog, or the blanket) is right there below the surface, ready and waiting and all it needs is a trigger–something to set it off or bring it on.

That trigger will vary from person to person and not only from person to person but day to day, month to month. But most of the time, if we dig deep, its roots weave down through the earth to a seed planted some years ago, often many. Deep seeds make thick roots and tall trees. A trigger comes along and its power shoots its voltage right down to the seed and all of a sudden, shame shows up.


Two things happen when shame shows up:

  1. We act outward
  2. We act inward

All of a sudden we’re suffocating under that hot blanket and we will either lash out, rip apart and criticize the jesus fuck out of everyone standing within earshot, or we turn it inward where we drink, take pills, eat and go to bed.

Great. Life sounds pretty shitty right about now, right? No. Because shame doesn’t have to win! There’s something way more powerful than shame.

TRUTH. Speak it out. As soon as you say it out loud, shame shrinks back like the little wenis that it is. Saying it loud will detonate it. Call a friend, write it down, text it, journal it, do whatever it takes to call shame for what it is and what it’s trying to reduce you to. Tell shame that you already know what it’s trying to dig up and you’re not afraid of it anymore.

If you act outward, and lose your shit you will have a bigger mess, more guilt and more shame. If you act inward and chase three double cheeseburgers down with a bottle of wine, you will feel more guilt and more shame.

After you call it out, you’re going to have to deal with the seed that was dug up. Hold it in the palm of your hand. Make sure you look at it, feel it, turn it over, rub it against your face and then gift it back into the earth but this time it won’t go as deep. I promise.

When was the last time you felt shame? What triggered that feeling? What seed became unearthed? Did you deal with it well or did you make it worse? 

Which image would you attach shame to? A hot blanket, a cold and clammy fog? Or? 

My shame feels hot. My cheeks burn and my forehead vein goes haywire. My heart beats in my throat.

Do you act outward or inward when you’re in shame?

Ummm…both. 🙁



{ 10 comments… add one }
  • Wendy@Taking the Long Way Home November 3, 2016, 5:12 pm

    I act inward when I’m in shame. But my body won’t allow it. I turn into a hot blanket. It sucks being so responsible.

    • suzy.suzyheather@gmail.com November 3, 2016, 5:36 pm

      Oh, you mean you kinda wish you could act outward and get it out, but it feels like acting inward exudes more self control and isn’t so…messy? I know what you mean! I feel like I still make a huge mess though, even when I act inward. It’s usually a bigger and more long-lasting mess, too. It just takes longer to get out.

  • Susie @ SuzLyfe November 3, 2016, 6:08 pm

    I think that I get stuck somewhere in the middle (like usual, can’t pick). Perhaps more so I am in transition in the way that I react. I used to be very outward, then I went very inward, and now I am trying to find the balance.

    • suzy.suzyheather@gmail.com November 4, 2016, 9:54 am

      You and I are similar that way. We ride the pendulum of extremes. It’s not boring. 😉

  • Allie Capo-Burdick November 4, 2016, 2:53 am

    I always act inward when it comes to shame. I absolutely love the idea of writing about it. How the hell have I never thought of that????

    • suzy.suzyheather@gmail.com November 4, 2016, 9:53 am

      Yeah, I mean, it’s a start, for sure. Speaking truth against shame works better if it’s aloud and with another person, someone we trust and who cares about us. But writing it out is SUCH a great first step because self awareness is EVERYTHING. Each time we write it out, we’re also acknowledging the trigger, and we’re acknowledging the seed and each time we do that, shame gets less and less powerful.

  • Ana November 4, 2016, 6:51 am

    This is so beautiful! Brene Brown is so great! After reading Daring Greatly, I got rid of my “You suck” thoughts, and it changed me, for good.

    I am trying to decide which way I act when I feel shame, but I can’t figure it out… because I try to push shame out and my brain turns it into guilt right away, and I want to do something to fix it as soon as I can.

    • suzy.suzyheather@gmail.com November 4, 2016, 9:51 am

      Ana, I am so glad to know you stopped with the whole “you suck” dialogue. We’ve all struggled with it, for sure!

      I’m a fixer too. But I think shame happens before our brains start trying to fix it. Like, shame takes our rational brains offline; we can’t think straight. We act purely in the heat of emotion rather than rationality. When we start becoming more self-aware then we notice when we are in fact, “in shame” because the feeling is much different than when we’re not in shame. Once the hot blanket or the fog lifts then we start trying to fix it, or we start behaving rationally again.

  • nk November 4, 2016, 1:32 pm

    Your post spoke directly to me. I’m not familiar with Brené Brown’s books, but I see that she has several. Which one was most behind today’s post?

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