A Coaching Power Tool Created by Sophie Barcant
(Parenting Coach, TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO)
Dr Brene Brown says
Shame is the intensely Painful feeling that we are unworthy of Love.
I am exploring this topic as a Power Tool because I see and believe one of the many things that keep people stuck, behaving anti-socially and in self-sabotage is a painful SHAME. The type of Shame I refer to here, has one feeling mortified and embarrassed. It’s a Toxic Shame that paralyses us, rendering us unable to do and achieve things. I believe that lies deep behind this Shame, is Fear: Fear of rejection, fear of inadequacy, fear of failure, fear of not being good enough.
Our primary psychological need is to be loved and to feel important. When this need for significance is not met, we hurt and feel ashamed that our primary caregivers, those who brought us into this world and those who raise us in schools don’t regard as worthy of love and significance. We feel we do not belong. We feel rejected. Equally important to this is how we internalize this type of experience and how we see ourselves.
Our perception, interpretation, assessment and conclusion of situations and experiences I think are really the ultimate decider of seeing ourselves worthy of love, capable of achieving or not.
In my view, the opposite of this Shame is Self -worth. I see the coaching practice of reframing perspectives is key to guide clients from a feeling of Shame to freedom from fear, and shame to self-worth and self-confidence, courageous to embark on whatever task they wish. With beliefs that we are loved, significant, accepted and welcome by our family, peers, tribe and we feel worthy and have good self-worth.
Coupled with Reframing Perspectives are Empathy and Powerful listening, keys to recovery and growth.
Shame should be reserved for the things we choose to do, NOT the circumstances life puts on us. Ann Patchett
What is Shame
In her article in Psychology Today.com, on Shame: A concealed, Contagious, and Dangerous Emotion Dr Mary C. Lamia explains Shame this way:
As a self-conscious emotion, shame informs us of an internal state of inadequacy, unworthiness, dishonour, regret, or disconnection. Shame is a clear signal that our positive feelings have been interrupted. Another person or circumstance can trigger shame in us, but so can a failure to meet our own ideals or standards. Given that, shame can lead us to feel as though our whole self is flawed, bad, or subject to exclusion, it motivates us to hide or to do something to save face. So it is no wonder that shame avoidance can lead to withdrawal or to addictions that attempt to mask its impact.
On the other hand, is a feeling that you are a good person who deserves to be treated with respect, feels respect for self and one’s abilities.
In my opinion, it exists as a result of more than just being raised by loving parents, more than being made to feel significant, more than how we were corrected as a child.
I say this because of the following story.
Jane, the eldest of 3 girls was born into a happy, nurturing, loving family. She developed normally and blossomed with her various talents. Her needs for love and significance throughout her early formative years were well met. At the tender age of 13, however, her parents divorced. Her father was was unfaithful, became an alcoholic and chain smoker. He also went bankrupt twice. This mortified Jane. All this was embarrassing and was perceived to be intensely mortifying due to the following: her paternal grandmother, with whom she spent much time, was raising her with extreme practices of etiquette, manners, religious practices and being correct and proper. Keeping up appearances was of utmost importance, so to have her own father falling very short of “proper self conduct” brought intense shame to Jane. She would have internalized all this as deeply shameful.
Added to this, Jane was corrected a lot so as to be “well” brought up, in her own words: “I was always criticized for everything”.
Harsh, critical parental behaviour produces shame-prone, perfectionistic children who then pass the family bad habit down to their children.- Lynne Namka
Dr Laura Markham in her blog “ How children develop Toxic Shame” helps us understand Shame this way: “when a child has been punished and criticized or ridiculed a lot and not given essential reassurance after the correction, that is when the shame is toxic. “
It is likely that Jane did not receive enough reassurance to counteract the amount of correction she got. Again Dr Laura states:
But what if the parent had instead scolded him, or even punished him? That appropriate instinctive mild shame reaction would get all mixed up with the emotions we all have when we’re punished- feelings of anger, of not being understood, of not being good enough. In other words, the child is left feeling alone and defective. That’s the definition of shame.
So there is nothing wrong with this instinctive response to the correction that happens inside all children – IF – and it’s a big “IF” -the child is then reassured rather than punished, so he can integrate the teaching and still feel like a good person.
Jane felt deep shame about her family situation as well as shame about her behaviours or actions that didn’t quite measure up to the high standards of her grandmother and parents. How she perceived and interpreted all that and the conclusions she made about herself, and what she then told herself then became her script for life: “ everybody criticizes me”. Toxic shame then drove her thoughts, attitudes, beliefs and behaviours. Behaviours and beliefs to mask the shame.
She ended up bringing her “proper” ways into her marriage and this gradually alienated her children, friends and husband who after 28 years of marriage, divorced her. Her standards could not be upheld by those around her and the shame of her own divorce was so deep she developed intense defensive mechanisms, negative thinking, negative beliefs and a crumbling away of self-worth.
Dr Bernard Golden in his article Overcoming the Paralysis of Toxic Shame points out that Shame fuels anger arousal and some people direct their anger outward, while others focus it inward. (H. Lewis,1971)
Jane reacts with anger to the slightest irritations. She interprets suggestions for finding happiness and innocent similar comments as attacks to her character. She makes excuses for everything and is in extreme co-dependence mode, feeling overly responsible for people, animals and the environment and caretaking others when it is truly not for her concern. She is fearful, critical, judgemental, incredibly insecure, impulsive, irrational, gets confused and overwhelmed very easily. Her toxic emotional state is most likely the cause of her deteriorating health and her lack of confidence to pursue anything constructive.
PragatiGhosh in an article Short Speech on Self Confidence states:
Self Confidence is the key to success, or we can say the first step to success. If a person has self-confidence, he has won half the battle.
Self-confident people understand the impact of believing in themselves and relying on their abilities.
This confidence ultimately creates opportunities for success and with each new success, another self-confidence building block is put into place. Success builds self-confidence with each new achievement. Self-confident people perceive themselves as able to achieve those things they set out to do and this perception creates a reality in their lives.
Yes, perception creates reality. You can become the person you want to be. You have heard it said that if you can believe it you can achieve it.
It has also been said that
Everything is created twice, first in the mind then in reality, Robin Sharma.
So we can extend the explanation for self-worth or self-confidence to having a positive image of ourselves (imagining in our mind who we want to be and what we want to do). Here is where the idea of perspective fits in. Perspective implies viewing something with one’s eyes or mind in a certain way. How we see ourselves, the perspective with which we view situations and experiences ultimately determines how we believe we should act.
Shameful feelings result from perceiving, imagining, interpreting, judging and concluding that experience was bad or cause for embarrassment.
Nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so said Shakespeare in Hamlet.
Examples abound where siblings can experience the same upbringing, set back or potentially shameful experience and one is overcome with embarrassment and the other brushes it off and moves on. Let’s see how Jane’s sisters reacted to the same family experience.
They were a bit younger and one was certainly aware of her father’s behaviour but she did not feel as deeply embarrassed about his actions, nor about the divorce. The youngest sister felt embarrassed as a teen that she had a stepfather but openly shared with friends that her father had been a bit of a womanizer and an alcoholic. They internalized the family situation differently, were not overly embarrassed by it, did not have heavy toxic shame affecting them hence had greater self-worth and were able to navigate their own careers, marriages and parenting more positively.
These are typical examples of how differently we view identical things with our particular unique lenses and interpret and respond so differently.
By the way, Jane has a very strong will and is a fighter so with her religious practices and personal online self-help she battles on and tries to make herself happy amidst these self-destructive tendencies and alienating her relatives and friends from her life.
So what do we do about crippling Shame and partnering with our clients to draw out their confidence and sense of self-worth?
Dr Brene Brown states that the most powerful antidote to shame is empathy.
“If you put shame in a Petri dish, it needs three things to grow exponentially: secrecy, silence and judgement. If you put the same amount of shame in a Petri dish and douse it with empathy, it can’t survive”.
An important quality of a coach is to be empathetic. Therefore by empathetic body language, facial, tone and verbal expressions, a coach can greatly assist a client in letting go of their shameful feelings while the client shares such experiences and stories.
Active and Powerful Listening on the coaches part is essential so as to get to hear about the client’s experiences, stories and self-image so as to facilitate the release of shameful feelings.
A little-recognized value of listening and inquiring relates to the realization that in human relationships, it is frequently not what the facts are, but what people think the facts are, which is truly important. There is a benefit in learning what someone else’s concept of the reality of the situation is. (Bryan Bell) (ICA module on Reframing Perspectives)
The primary purpose of listening… is to truly understand the other person’s point of view, how they think and feel and how they ‘move through the world. (Zeus and Skiffington, 2000)
(ICA module on Reframing Perspectives)
When we listen to understand the other person’s point of view, we can gain an understanding of what their beliefs are about themselves and their capabilities, we can learn what they value and with this awareness, we can direct questions that can shift their opinion about experiences that they label as shameful to not shameful and thus gain freedom to a positive self-image, self-confidence or self-worth. In a sense, a coach helps the client reframe their perspectives.
Reframing is an essential part of the coaching process as it helps others to see things differently and, as a result, come to different, more empowering conclusions or feelings about the event or experience.
The coach’s ability to reframe a situation for the client can provide a new perspective and with it, new possibilities. Things that seemed impossible now seem possible!
As previously mentioned many of us develop feelings of shame by perceiving or judging an incident as embarrassing. We internalize unhelpful perspectives from our past or from the environment around us. We hold “dis-empowering perspectives” and these prevent us from seeing possibilities. We become “stuck” and only see obstacles to what we really want and deeply wish for. We can even feel hopeless, sad and depressed. When the coach can guide the client to view the incident differently, from another point of view or from a different perspective, with different lenses, then the client can free him or herself of shameful feelings around that particular incident. “Perspective is a point of view; a way of looking at or interpreting a set of events. We all have perspectives about our world and the circumstances we find ourselves in. And it’s your perspective that determines your experience in life, not your circumstances. So while we cannot always change our circumstances we can choose to change our perspective at any time. This is a powerful tool to have in life!” (ICA, module Reframing Perspectives)
Creating awareness is another vital part of the coaching process, and it is this element that helps a client know what their perspectives are. “Knowing what our perspective is, allows us to have a greater awareness of how we make decisions and how our perspective determines the way that we see things. What we see is based on what we believe. However, with new information, we can change what we believe.” ( ICA, a module on Reframing Perspectives) Hence with new beliefs, the person has become empowered to act out their goals and dreams. New possibilities open up to them, thanks to new “Empowering Perspectives”.
Therefore as a coach, we can challenge a client with poor self-worth to shift their belief about their abilities and empower them to see themselves capable of more than they presently believe they are capable of doing and being. We challenge them to think outside the box.
- “One of the best strategies for helping a client discern a particular perspective and to reframe it is one of the simplest: The simple act of providing a space where a client can be really listened to is often enough for them to explore the perspectives that lie underneath their actions.
- As coaches, we believe that the client is the expert in his or her life. By providing a trusting space and focused listening, we can free clients up to explore the many perspectives that inform the way they experience life. Simply by speaking something aloud, the client can hear himself or herself. A dis-empowering perspective will jar them. It will feel wrong even as it is coming out of their mouths. Understanding will occur and, with it, the opportunity to reframe the unhelpful perspective. “ (ICA, a module on Reframing Perspectives)
The basic act of listening with undivided attention, listening to the spoken and non-spoken language of a client is an act of empathy. This mode of helping others move from shame to self-worth is confirmed by Brene Brown a leading expert on vulnerability and shame.
By keeping quiet, Brene Brown says your shame will grow exponentially. “It will creep into every corner and crevice of your life. The antidote is empathy.” She explains that by talking about your shame with a friend who expresses empathy, the painful feeling cannot survive. (Aug 26, 2013)
Challenging clients to use their Imagination, Visualizing their ideal future self, seeing oneself with stronger greater self-worth and reduced images of shame and embarrassment are other coaching tools that can help clients improve their sense of self-worth: since according to Robin Sharma
Everything is created twice, first in the mind than in reality.
Marissa Peer, Speaker, Therapist, Behavioural Expert and Best-Selling Author.
Recounts endless stories of clients who recovered from debilitating emotional conditions by changing their perspectives and beliefs about themselves and their past and present environment. Marissa brings them to a place to believe they are “enough”. By having them see, believe and accept and declare: “I am enough”. This approach has healed hundreds of people and empowered them to make changes in their life, leading to emotional well being, confidence and success.
With this basic set of coaching tools we as coaches can support and challenge a client to transform who they are: their attitudes, expectations or responses, empowering them to achieve what they dream of achieving and being who they dream to be, letting go old recordings of limited beliefs ensnared by toxic shame, pain, fear and guilt.
Marissa Peer, June 2018, Youtube, All Our insecurities Come From One Thing
Dr Laura Markham, (2014) How Children Develop Toxic Shame,
PragatiGhosh: Short Speech on Self Confidence. Accessed on 14th March 2019,
Brene Brown, What’s the most powerful antidote to Shame, my.Happify.com. Accessed on March 14th,2019
Brene Brown On Shame: It cannot survive Empathy. Huffington Post, Aug 27th, 2013