Shame results in fear, blame ( of self or others), and disconnection. Empathy is cultivated by courage, compassion, and connection.
She calls empathy to be an antidote in which shame can not survive. She explains that shame depends on me buying into the belief that I am alone. It is shame that keeps us from being vulnerable, it is shame that makes us think that we are alone, it is shame that keeps us from being seen and heard even though that is what we all desire.
Shame is the lowest level of human consciousness as per Dr. David Hockin’s scale of energy field. Dr. Hockins points out that level of shame is perilously proximate to death.
In shame we hang our heads and slink away, wishing we were invisible (Dr. Hockins, 2009) .
Dr. Brene Brown also considers shame to be lethal. She calls shame an epidemic of our society. It is true we live in a shaming culture which holds us back from being vulnerable, courageous and accepting and being who we really are.
Why is vulnerability perceived as a weakness in our society?
If one thinks about it , one needs a lot of courage and gut to be vulnerable. We succumb to many weaknesses throughout our lives but it is not easy to succumb to vulnerability because it is not a weakness. It takes much bravery to put yourself in the open, it takes a lot of nerve to voice an idea which has never been voiced before or come up with something which has not been created before. Vulnerability as Brene Brown defines it is an accurate measurement of courage.
Vulnerability is the birthplace for innovation, creativity and change ( Brene Brown, 2012)
The question is how can we create the space in which clients or any other individual in our live does not experience the fear of vulnerability? How can we guide our clients to a place where they meet their authentic selves? The research points to empathy!
I would like to share a personal story here. I had been shamed all my life for being too “sensitive”, for being too “emotional” until I decided to hide my sensitive and empathic part from everyone including those I dearly loved. I had always been told that I had to be tougher, that the world does not like “softies” like me. My sensitivity to others, my ability to emphasize and feel compassion had been viewed as a weakness. I made a decision to become “tougher”, to hide “softie” in me and face the world wearing masks of indifference, pretense and aggression at times. The more I pretended the more I hated myself for being who I was – the sensitive kind. The inner conflict and dichotomy resulted in frequent depression and the inability to be my own person. I felt lonely, I felt like I did not belong, I felt like someone who would never be able to connect with the other in an authentic way. The pain I felt was excruciating. However, somewhere deep in my heart I knew that it was not right, it was not the way it was supposed to feel and be. I started my search for the confirmation and I found it in many books but the real transformation did not start until I connected with my first life coach. I still remember myself sitting in front of him at my first session and crying. He did not say much, but the silence, his look, the space he created had said so much that it was enough to understand and feel that I am beautiful and enough the way I am. Every time I think back to that moment, J.Rumi’s saying comes to my mind :
I closed my mouth and spoke to you in a hundred silent ways.
I have embraced myself the way I am and nothing feels as great as being your true self. I have found out recently that I belong to a category of people called “highly sensitive people” and it was comforting to learn that there are so many of us in the world. It is frightening to live with the belief that you are alone in this world that you do not belong and the shame of being “different” holds you back from connecting and reaching out to others. It eats you from inside and gradually ruins your life. We suffer when we experience disconnection probably because experiencing authentic connection is our natural state.
Interconnectedness is a critical concept in many Eastern philosophies and spiritual practices. A famous philosopher and scholar of eastern philosophies Alan Watt’s used the spider’s web as an analogy for interconnectedness:
If every individual is a dew drop on a spider web filled with other dew drops, and every dew drop contains a reflection of all the other dew drops, than we can say that each individual is a reflection of all other individuals. We are all reflections of other personalities.
Watts also underlined the importance of empathy, because by practicing empathy we are practicing interconnectedness. When empathizing we are treating another person as it if it is a part of ourselves. We become one in the moment of empathy. I have come to believe that experiencing a sense of connection and belonging is one of our needs.
As coaches we want our clients to reaich that vulnerability place with us, to open up and allow us into their world. We would love for them to accept themselves and feel no shame in the way they are or the way they think or act. We want to be there for them to support, hear and understand when they feel like they are all alone in this world. We will be able to destroy that shame they carry in themselves with time and with the help of empathy.
I believe empathy culture can heal the world.
Rogers, C. (1961) On Becoming a Person New York: Mariner Books.
Hawkins, D. (1995) Power vs Force. Hay House, Inc
Brown, B. (2010) : The power of vulnerability. Retrieved from:http://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerability.html