On Emotional Freedom

After I post­ed “Lead­er­ship and Shame” on August 14th, I noticed oth­er relat­ed arti­cles appeared. Samatha S. Hall post­ed “Co-depen­den­cy and Rela­tion­ships,” regard­ing the way shame trans­lates into prob­lem­at­ic cop­ing mech­a­nisms. Kate Nass­er pub­lished “Lead­ing & Inspir­ing Through Shame?” about avoid­ing the temp­ta­tion to shame oth­ers as a moti­va­tion­al tech­nique. And Vin­cent Nix shared some vul­ner­a­ble per­son­al sto­ries about the upside and com­plex­i­ty of shame in “In Praise of Shame.” So per­haps this is a top­ic whose time has come! The lessons from these posts seem to be:

• Some shame is healthy. To notice and own a mis­take open­ly and with a sense of per­son­al respon­si­bil­i­ty and com­punc­tion is a learn­ing event — not a bad thing.

• Our defens­es against shame are high­ly indi­vid­u­al­ized around our con­di­tion­ing. To explore shame orga­ni­za­tion­al­ly, we must also exam­ine it per­son­al­ly.

• Shame eas­i­ly can be mis­used as a tool to under­mine and erode peo­ple — we need to avoid ratio­nal­iz­ing or ignor­ing this behav­ior — it’s sim­ply not moti­va­tion­al or ethical.

• We often cope with shame either through devel­op­ing co-depen­den­cy or through aggres­sive blam­ing of others.

For me, the most impor­tant work we need to do with the dom­i­nat­ing, tox­ic aspects of shame is to con­sid­er how deeply they are built into our orga­ni­za­tion­al sys­tems and cul­tures. Struc­tural­ly, there are voids that shame and sham­ing fill. These are often uncon­scious, almost invis­i­ble appli­ca­tions. We see fear, anx­i­ety, unassertive­ness, lack of con­fi­dence and self-esteem. But what we don’t notice is the role shame may play in all of it behind the scenes.


Look­ing back over thir­ty years of orga­ni­za­tion­al expe­ri­ence, when I use this lens I see things a lit­tle dif­fer­ent­ly, par­tic­u­lar­ly the con­flicts between lead­ers and their teams. For instance, I worked with a new super­vi­sor exten­sive­ly who despite his soft demeanor became feared and deeply dis­liked by those report­ing to him. As I reflect today, the super­vi­sor was­n’t some­one to be afraid of, par­tic­u­lar­ly (although peo­ple com­plained about that), but he did shame peo­ple in a vari­ety of ways and this caused intense, debil­i­tat­ing anx­i­ety. Most­ly, despite the “nice­ness,” he com­mu­ni­cat­ed that peo­ple should do what he said because he was smarter, more expe­ri­enced, knew the “right way.” Soft-spo­ken and friend­ly, but always a notch above oth­ers and there­fore resis­tant to advice and feed­back and real under­stand­ing, he always had an explanation. 

Or I think of anoth­er man­ag­er who felt she had been deeply wronged by her team, and — almost as a cru­sade — set out to cri­tique every one of her employ­ees for incom­pe­tence and “poor atti­tudes,” run­ning them all off “her” team — though hers was the poor­est atti­tude of all. 

Or anoth­er case: a CEO who when frus­trat­ed with cir­cum­stance would call a col­league to his office to be berat­ed and humil­i­at­ed; the CEO then so exhaust­ed from the exchange he need­ed to lie down on his office couch for a nap. 

I think of the man­ag­er who felt shamed by an aggres­sive staff mem­ber try­ing to defend her job and so gave her a sear­ing, but non-spe­cif­ic eval­u­a­tion that seemed to com­mu­ni­cate only one cen­tral mes­sage: “you are stupid.” 

And final­ly, as one last exam­ple, the C‑Suite exec­u­tive whose fail­ure to fol­low through on promis­es came with a well-known under­tone: “I own you any­way, no mat­ter what I do.” Indeed, this last sham­ing mes­sage is the most sub­tle and most pen­e­trat­ing of all. By say­ing noth­ing about the bro­ken promise, he might as well have said, “I dis­re­spect you and your expec­ta­tion that I can be held to any agree­ment to treat you well or let you actu­al­ly influ­ence my think­ing.” He was a not-so-sub­tle ter­ror­ist who held each of his reports cap­tive, or, if they did­n’t go along, was known to cut them loose with effu­sive (but deroga­to­ry) praise.

As I look back, increas­ing­ly I see a dimen­sion from mild embar­rass­ment to dread in peo­ples’ behav­iors. And I see how the focus of under­stand­ing has been on the anx­i­ety asso­ci­at­ed with the behav­iors — the fear lead­ing to a cyclic, nev­er-end­ing assump­tion that peo­ple sim­ply ought to have more self-esteem, out­right con­fi­dence, delib­er­ate courage. But I won­der now if that is real­ly so. The sys­temics point again and again to orga­ni­za­tions where sham­ing is a con­ve­nient method of con­trol, jus­ti­fied as a busi­ness or man­age­r­i­al or exec­u­tive priv­i­lege (and maybe oblig­a­tion) — in essence, part of the cul­ture. The need for courage is true in a sense, but I won­der if it’s real­ly the right kind, ready to actu­al­ly address the true dynam­ics of orga­ni­za­tion­al sham­ing rather than being viewed as sole­ly “a per­son­al issue.”

Our orga­ni­za­tions, sud­den­ly lit up with this light, look less like sweat shops than shame-and-con­trol shops, places where those who get ahead are exact­ly the peo­ple who are immune, mean­ing they are either gen­uine­ly enlight­ened or just mild­ly socio­path­ic, hav­ing learned to dis­miss healthy, human shame as an unnec­es­sary per­son­al hin­drance and maybe a sign of weakness.

I strug­gle to under­stand this world. Maybe I’m becom­ing one bub­ble off, lost in a neg­a­tive fan­ta­sy. I look into myself and I can see how shame also oper­ates for me as a con­sul­tant, how I get trapped when some­one con­tra­dicts my direc­tion or knowl­edge or advice, how easy it is for me to sud­den­ly feel quite vul­ner­a­ble and there­fore not quite sure enough to stand up in the way I aspire to. Aren’t I like those very lead­ers? Indeed! Such chal­lenge! Oth­ers count on me to help change the nature of their orga­ni­za­tion! And can I do it? Can I?

And, oh so much pre­tense in this busi­ness! So many pre­tend­ing we know! Pre­tend­ing but with unspo­ken holes with­in us. Pre­tend­ing to have some inside knowl­edge, some tech­nique to change it all. Lord, how I get sick of the mar­ket­ing and every­thing it does to us. May I express this out­rage as some­thing we have done to ourselves?

I am com­mit­ted, as I am sure you are, too, to cre­at­ing an envi­ron­ment, final­ly, of emo­tion­al free­dom. To be free of the chains. The goal isn’t some phoney form of orga­ni­za­tion­al opti­mism and con­for­mi­ty hap­pi­ness, but work­ing deeply and spir­i­tu­al­ly from the core, from the truth, with­out this dross and bag­gage, this fear or anger, this per­for­mance shame. The goal is to stop see­ing weak­ness where there is actu­al­ly strength, to cre­ate a heart and soul in what we do, to fly in the face of being dis­pos­able, to over­come the epidemic. 

Enough! We owe it to our­selves and all those who fol­low to get unhooked — per­ma­nent­ly.


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  • You may well be right about “shame” reach­ing it’s time for explo­ration on the blo­go-sphere. I love your ques­tion Dan in this post about how and where it is engrained in our corp. cultures. 

    KEY Ques­tion and well worth explo­ration to rout it out.

    I also have one respect­ful dis­agree­ment with the open­ing state­ment — that some shame is healthy. Per­haps it is in the def­i­n­i­tion of shame. Quot­ing you:

    Some shame is healthy. To notice and own a mis­take open­ly and with a sense of per­son­al respon­si­bil­i­ty and com­punc­tion is a learn­ing event — not a bad thing.” 

    Notic­ing and own­ing a mis­take … I call this aware­ness and emo­tion­al intel­li­gence — not shame.

    Shame to me is almost a syn­onym for humil­i­a­tion and the learn­ing can occur with­out it.

    Many thanks for anoth­er great post.
    Respect­ful regards,

  • Dear Kate~

    Yes, wow, the def­i­n­i­tion is so tricky. What is healthy? What is not? I picked this up from the posts I cit­ed, but I tend to agree that there are times when a lit­tle shame might be a good thing — I keep think­ing of Antho­ny Wein­er, cit­ed via Leonard Pitts’ edi­to­r­i­al in my last post. I may not quite be say­ing it right, so appre­ci­ate the help and hope oth­ers weigh in. You can read Vin­cent Nix’s arti­cle for some addi­tion­al insight about the “good shame” side of the question.

    I have to say I’m deal­ing with a vis­cer­al real­i­ty and some new ter­ri­to­ry. What’s a blog for? Per­fect under­stand­ing? Hah! At this point, I can feel more than I can say. I hope that you’ll all understand!

    All the best

  • Dan, this is anoth­er beau­ti­ful post. To such an extent that I’m feel­ing rather ’emo­tion­al’ about it right now! : )

    I love your own expres­sions of vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty as you reflect on the past 30 years of your life as a con­sul­tant. Your own moments of being trig­gered (per­haps feel­ing like a fraud for a moment?) If so, I would say to you that the fact that you would even be will­ing to ques­tion your own behav­ior is a GOOD SIGN that you have an open heart and mind of aware­ness. After all, per­fec­tion­ism is anoth­er off­shoot of the ‘shame game’ and as a human being, life can be about con­scious progress as opposed to per­fec­tion. We ARE going to be trig­gered in our day to day lives. We WILL react instead of respond some­times in cer­tain sit­u­a­tions. So it’s not that we can absolute­ly pre­vent these things in our­selves or oth­ers. Per­haps it has more to do with grow­ing in our abil­i­ty to ‘own’ our own behav­ior when it aris­es. (refer­ring back to a com­ment I made on your oth­er post about the wolves) 

    On the occa­sions where prob­lems arose and there have been mutu­al respon­si­bil­i­ty tak­en to own our respec­tive reac­tions, those turn out well. Once it’s ‘out’ and owned. It seems the issue los­es it’s charge and no longer leaves a last­ing ‘wake’ in the heart and mind. Now, I should be care­ful to also state that this was much eas­i­er to achieve in rel­a­tive­ly minor sit­u­a­tions that were not linked to major betray­als and/or phys­i­cal trau­ma. In those cas­es, even when the DESIRE is there to move on, there may be a longer last­ing resid­ual impact from it all that makes it far less easy to get con­scious­ly free of. Takes more time. 

    Your last exam­ple of the C–suite exec­u­tive real­ly hit a nerve with me as it so resem­bles the EXACT atti­tude and behav­ior from child­hood on where I had been shamed.…

    “I own you any­way, no mat­ter what I do.” Indeed, this last sham­ing mes­sage is the most sub­tle and most pen­e­trat­ing of all. By say­ing noth­ing about the bro­ken promise, he might as well have said, “I dis­re­spect you and your expec­ta­tion that I can be held to any agree­ment to treat you well or let you actu­al­ly influ­ence my thinking.”

    It is THIS type of shame that hap­pens most often in fam­i­lies and busi­ness orga­ni­za­tions. The idea that…you CAN’T leave. I own you. With­out me, you won’t be able to sur­vive so I can get away with treat­ing you how­ev­er I want. 

    It hits peo­ple on a sur­vival lev­el. It is also the most dangerous. 

    I also was intrigued by Kate’s insights on the word ‘shame’ itself. At least here in west­ern soci­ety, most (if not all of us) have been so con­di­tioned by the word itself that the lines eas­i­ly get blurred. 

    Shame on you! You ought to be ashamed of yourself!’ 

    Which is basi­cal­ly more sham­ing. haha 

    Per­haps it would help if we cre­at­ed a new words that did­n’t have such a neg­a­tive charge/connotation to it to illus­trate the ‘healthy’ feel­ing that aris­es when we have hurt some­one. The empathic/compassionate response that leads us to not want to do it again. etc.

    Right now, I’m hap­py that we are sim­ply dis­cussing the sub­ject out in the open. We are explor­ing shame. Pulling the lid off of it. We may not have a mag­i­cal cure for any of it yet we are rais­ing aware­ness togeth­er on a sub­ject that has been the source of much vio­lence and hurt in the world. 

    Thanks again for your open­ness, hon­esty, vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty, and insights. 


  • Dear Saman­tha~

    Thank you so much for this. You have cov­ered so many of the points I’ve tried to make. While vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty isn’t nec­es­sar­i­ly new for me around my work — I do try to mod­el open­ness — it’s always good to have a friend to also mod­el and mir­ror the mes­sages that show up in its midst. As I men­tioned to Kate, at the moment I can feel far­ther than I can intel­lec­tu­al­ly say. 

    The point about fraud is an inter­est­ing one. At a per­son­al lev­el, I’m less influ­enced by that in a way that some around me are. But I tend to deeply feel it around the indus­try of orga­ni­za­tion­al improve­ment of which I am a part. Coach­es, con­sul­tants, train­ers — we nudge and advo­cate but actu­al­ly take few risks to change any­one’s par­a­digms. We stand for stuff, but in the background.

    Like you, the C‑Suite exec­u­tive is the one who both­ers me the most. Because the moves are sub­tle and pro­found­ly invasive.

    Saman­tha, I enjoy so much the love­ly and sen­si­tive way you enter this top­ic and space. It’s not an easy one to engage, but you engage it as a his­to­ri­an of your own free­dom, and as an artist, free­ing up obscure emo­tions for oth­ers and offer­ing a guid­ed tour. Thank you so much for your part­ner­ship in this enter­prise of explor­ing shame and help­ing us all befriend the places we fear to enter.

    All the best to you

  • Dan,

    I am read­ing this and feel­ing quite a few emotions. 

    One, I am grate­ful that you got some­thing from my post.

    Two, I am thank­ful that there are men in the world that rec­og­nize the pow­er­ful lead­er­ship and devel­op­ment effect of being vul­ner­a­ble by express­ing that we can feel. It took me a long time to reach this point, and see­ing some­one as well-known as you are doing what I have *at last* begin to be *okay* with is empow­er­ing, to say the least.

    Third, I agree with Saman­tha; the fact that we are dis­cussing this open­ly, and “bar­ing our souls” as it were, makes me real­ly happy.

    Fourth, and I am a bit hes­i­tant to write this, but hey, we are being hon­est and open, right? I am feel­ing a bit mis­un­der­stood. I nev­er orig­i­nal­ly intend­ed to re-define shame as a “pos­i­tive” emo­tion in my post. I LIKE how it has been viewed that way; I can­not deny that. 🙂

    I think my post was as much a “recla­ma­tion” event in my per­son­al devel­op­ment as any­thing. My ear­ly life was indeed ruled by shame and the way I was blud­geoned by its use. Again, I’m not dis­agree­ing that ANY emo­tion can be positive.

    This isn’t easy to explain in a short response, so please bear with me. I’m a white male, and gen­er­al­ly expe­ri­ence the priv­i­lege that Peg­gy McIn­tosh called the “invis­i­ble knapsack/backpack.” How­ev­er, there are times in which I have expe­ri­enced discrimination. 

    For exam­ple, I have a South­ern dialect. Until I final­ly earned a doc­tor­ate, equals and sub­or­di­nates alike treat­ed me as a less­er being, because I sound­ed “une­d­u­cat­ed.” Supe­ri­ors have asked me to try and speak “less South­ern” at offi­cial functions. 

    I had to hide the accent to avoid feel­ing shamed. I prac­ticed late nights in order to be able to “speak edu­cat­ed” at meetings. 

    Final­ly, after earn­ing a doc­tor­ate, I felt that I could sit at a table and “reclaim” my South­ern her­itage in the form of my nat­ur­al dialect. I thought: “So what? I am your equal on paper now.” I won’t let you shame me anymore.

    My post (for me) was an expres­sion of lib­er­a­tion. What I meant was that by tak­ing OWNERSHIP of the shame, we may be able to REVERSE the neg­a­tive effects and use it to our advantage. 

    Yes, in that sense, it becomes pos­i­tive, but not with­out work. 

    I’m not a coun­selor. Emo­tions are not my domain pro­fes­sion­al­ly. I’m just begin­ning to be able to deal with them on a per­son­al level. 

    I do not dis­agree with any of you that shame can be pos­i­tive. In my case, I choose to make the shame no more than a “mis­take” which we can prob­a­bly all agree on as learn­ing and devel­op­ment pro­fes­sion­als, is an oppor­tu­ni­ty to learn and grow.

    The BIG dif­fer­ence is that in most cas­es, shame is root­ed in PERCEPTION of oth­ers about my actions. More often than not, a “tra­di­tion­al mis­take” is in fact, due to my mis-per­cep­tion and/or misbehavior.

    Does any of that make sense?

    Peace & love,

  • Dear Vince~

    I must say I loved your post — espe­cial­ly the point you’ve men­tioned in your com­ment — about own­er­ship. The deal, to me, is that some­times we own too much of the shame and some­times we own too lit­tle. Will we get this right? The only way is to be con­scious and aware — as you are — decid­ing where that line might be for this or that cir­cum­stance and get­ting help and the mir­ror­ing effects of good coun­sel and friend­ship to cal­i­brate what’s right. 

    Brené Brown is quite clear about this — that we need each oth­er to help us get our bear­ings and devel­op our “shame resilience.” Shame, by its very nature, sep­a­rates us from one anoth­er, and then deeply scares and scars us with that sep­a­ra­tion, so to bring this for­ward vul­ner­a­bly as a com­mu­ni­ty of two or three or thou­sands is what we can do, and need to do to address the great pain. And heal. 

    Vince, it’s great to share in this explo­ration with you. It is not easy, yet your open­ness makes it look so. Let’s stand just here to see who else will feel invit­ed to join this cir­cle near the fire.

    All the best

  • Dan,

    Yes. I often owned shame (both extremes too lit­tle and too much) with­out any ben­e­fit. Maybe you’ve hit onto some­thing else that is as crit­i­cal: shared ownership. 

    The pro­cess­ing pow­er that is possible–when we open­ly respond to any type of shame by shar­ing it–may be just what we need to begin to reclaim our (orga­ni­za­tion­al and per­son­al) devel­op­ment potential.

    The flames are illu­mi­nat­ing indeed.

    All the best, ritebakatcha!

  • Vince~

    Shame and grief are linked in this way: that we suf­fer too much alone. We can bear the shame in com­mu­ni­ty, as we can bear grief with friends. We must not hold the illu­sion we are sup­posed to process and han­dle these tough emo­tions sin­gu­lar­ly. Our indi­vid­u­al­ist cul­ture does­n’t help much with that — and is due for change! Thanks again, Vince!


  • Hoda Maalouf (@MaaHoda) wrote:

    Dear Dan,
    You have tack­led in your last 2 posts a very impor­tant but sen­si­tive topic.
    I was tempt­ed to reply to your pre­vi­ous post but then decid­ed not to do so. You see I come from a back­ground where talk­ing about shame is almost impos­si­ble. I sense the West­ern world may be a bet­ter place to live in when it comes to this issue.
    I can give a short list and don’t be sur­prised of what in it. Around here, it’s shame­ful to:
    Have sex before mar­riage, to be homo­sex­u­al, to live with some­one with­out mar­riage, to have kids with­out being mar­ried, etc.….
    We have been brain washed by these ideas, espe­cial­ly women, and from an ear­ly age. And I’m a Chris­t­ian. The sit­u­a­tion is much much worse for Mus­lim girls and women.

    Any­way, in addi­tion to soci­etal pres­sure, we have fam­i­ly ones. Strong Fam­i­ly ties have their bless­ings and down­falls espe­cial­ly when your loved ones always expect the best from you.

    For instance, in my case, there is no room for mis­takes! They got used to the idea that I always do the right thing, and do it quite well so no way they would accept me to fail in any­thing. And when I failed to con­ceive a child and had sev­er­al mis­car­riages. The feed­back was: It is def­i­nite­ly her “prob­lem”.
    Luck­i­ly, after my 7th IVF (very few women would agree to do so many tri­als) I had my twins and had peo­ple off my back!

    Thanks Dan for being so hon­est and for show­ing your vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty! I high­ly admire you for that!


  • Dear Hoda~

    Thank you for adding your own spe­cial take on this top­ic, espe­cial­ly high­light­ing the cul­tur­al dif­fer­ences that are all around us, Hoda. Your sto­ry about fail­ure to con­ceive and what that means will res­onate with many, I’m sure. We hide, hide, hide — and the felt oppro­bri­um just hurts. It’s an unre­al state of affairs, dic­tat­ed by the past. 

    It’s time to help things change. 

    Thank you again and all the best!


  • Thought pro­vok­ing and insightful.
    The way man­agers cre­ate tox­ic envi­ron­ments and the impact this can have on peo­ples lives…is wor­thy of fur­ther exploration.

  • Dear nor­man~

    Thanks for stop­ping by — and yes, absolute­ly. We need to under­stand how tox­ic envi­ron­ments form, whether cre­at­ed through fear or shame or some com­bi­na­tion, whether gen­er­at­ed inten­tion­al­ly or unin­ten­tion­al­ly, and what we can do to change all that!

    All the best to you

  • Great post Dan.

    Shame healthy?

    It is a inter­est­ing state­ment you make Dan.. not sure I agree.

    I would rather heal the shame with­in me ‑than call it healthy.

    Shame in par­tic­u­lar is a feel­ing that is alive with­in us and it affects us in more ways then we care to admit.

    For many who bury their feel­ing, espe­cial­ly shame, and who feel it is a neces­si­ty to do so, will come to under­stand that you can­not hide from shame it will man­i­fest in one way or another.

    It does not hide for long, it makes itself be known. Even if we are not aware of it. It has a way of act­ing out, it may act out as anger, hate, fear, suf­fer­ing, hurt, sick­ness, resent­ment, lone­li­ness, depres­sion, jeal­ous­ly, fail­ure, mis­ery, prej­u­dice, or even guilt.

    I feel shame is part of us, and its cry­ing to lib­er­at­ed from the untold years of sup­pres­sion and denial.

    the cry is about seek­ing relief from pain and suffering. 

    You see shame wants for us to: 

    open our eyes so that we can see.

    open our heart so we can feel.

    open our mind so we can think.

    to see, feel, and think of the truth and light of who we are.

    Lead From within

  • Dear Lol­ly~

    Hon­est­ly, dis­cus­sion of healthy shame/toxic shame dis­tinc­tions feels like a dis­trac­tion from the pur­pose of this post, which is pre­dom­i­nant­ly about the way tox­ic shame, like a poi­son can spread through the arter­ies of orga­ni­za­tion­al life. I’m prob­a­bly to blame for this dis­trac­tion by men­tion­ing healthy shame at the front-end of the post, instead of just explor­ing more of the dimen­sion­al­i­ty of shame, from under-owned to over-owned forms.

    Be that as it may, when you and Kate first men­tioned your reac­tions to the term, healthy shame, I could­n’t at first remem­ber where I’d heard it, as I knew it was not orig­i­nal to me. I was remind­ed of John Brad­ford’s late ’80’s clas­sic, Heal­ing the Shame That Binds You. Sure enough, when I took it down from the shelf, there was Brad­ford’s very lengthy def­i­n­i­tion of healthy shame, bridg­ing psy­cho­log­i­cal and spir­i­tu­al aspects. In part, he says:

    “Healthy shame keeps us ground­ed. It is a yel­low light, warn­ing us of our essen­tial lim­i­ta­tions. Healthy shame is the basic meta­phys­i­cal bound­ary for human beings. It is the emo­tion­al ener­gy that sig­nals us that we are not God–that we will make mis­takes, that we need help. Healthy shame gives us per­mis­sion to be human.”

    “Healthy shame is part of every human’s per­son­al pow­er. It allows us to know our lim­its, and thus to use our ener­gy more effec­tive­ly. We have bet­ter direc­tion when we know our lim­its. We do not waste our­selves on goals we can­not reach or on things we can­not change. Healthy shame allows our ener­gy to be inter­grat­ed rather than diffused.”

    I high­ly rec­om­mend the book if you or oth­er read­ers want to get into this def­i­n­i­tion is great detail. 

    For me, a good part of the notion of healthy shame has to do with being able to feel and own the shame, as a rein­force­ment for our humil­i­ty and con­stant learn­ing. I say some­thing inad­ver­tent­ly that I lat­er real­ize was hurt­ful. I feel bad­ly. I reflect on what hap­pened, how the insen­si­tiv­i­ty occurred. I’m embar­rassed that I’ve made a mis­take and I apol­o­gize. The point is that a feel­ing leads to a reflec­tive moment and a correction.

    Per­haps this is more an issue for men. I’ve worked with a num­ber of clients who have great dif­fi­cul­ty with the own­er­ship part. Because they can’t own their emo­tions (on a scale from embar­rass­ment to deep hurt), the shame becomes sup­pressed. Often these are peo­ple who grew up with sham­ing, per­fec­tion­is­tic care-givers. They were not only expect­ed to be per­fect but also per­fect­ly con­tained, and they were shamed so much they don’t even real­ly expe­ri­ence the feel­ings as shame or embar­rass­ment any­more. Instead, they just react. The reac­tion hap­pens instant­ly and is then jus­ti­fied and ratio­nal­ized. For exam­ple, if I’m an exec­u­tive respon­si­ble for a large orga­ni­za­tion and you tell me some­thing about me (or my lead­er­ship or my team or the com­pa­ny that I’ve built) that I don’t like, I may quick­ly “kill the mes­sen­ger” by blam­ing, dis­miss­ing, act­ing out, sham­ing the oth­er per­son, etc. and then deny that I felt any shame at all relat­ed to the orig­i­nal mes­sage. Or, instead of (or in addi­tion to) hurt­ing some­one else I beat myself up for months with­out being able to learn, resolve, and move ahead. In this, I’m doing exact­ly what you men­tion in your post. So I would say healthy shame is the shame I am able to feel and own and through reflec­tion come to terms with, an act of unfold­ing self-knowl­edge. But if I can’t real­ly feel it, I cer­tain­ly can­not heal it. Numb makes me dumb.

    Of course, shame is such a com­plex emo­tion that we defend in a myr­i­ad of ways, some­times by act­ing out in the way I’ve just men­tioned, but just as often through all the oth­er emo­tions you’ve iden­ti­fied, and in self-defeat­ing pat­terns and dra­mas. Our defen­sive sys­tems are amaz­ing­ly complicated. 

    In all this I don’t see our van­tage points are ter­ri­bly far apart. I espe­cial­ly like your con­clud­ing lines, which are love­ly and, to me, very accu­rate. When I con­sult my own Guardian Angels they tell me that while try­ing to live with shame is unhealthy — we are not meant to do that — not being able to feel it, acknowl­edge it, and own it is also unhealthy. I agree with Brad­ford that under­stand­ing shame has a role in our spir­i­tu­al life as we mature. I also agree with Brené Brown who focus­es more on shame resilience because we are unlike­ly to ever tran­scend it entire­ly. Per­son­al­ly, I believe that shame is part of our intrin­sic human­ness, uncom­fort­able as it is — that meta­phys­i­cal lim­it, as Brad­ford says. With­out it, we’d lose some­thing of the nature of grace and the redeem­ing qual­i­ties that come through the pro­found recon­sti­tu­tion of our natures called heal­ing. It is our capac­i­ty to be vul­ner­a­ble with one anoth­er, to feel, and to own our­selves, includ­ing tough feel­ings of shame, that help recov­er the divine light in which we all participate.

    Thanks so much for bring­ing your won­der­ful wis­dom, Lol­ly, and adding so much to this exploration.

    All the best

  • Thanks Dan much to take in and much to learn. 

    I will read the book you rec­om­mend­ed and I will learn more of myself because of it.

    thank you for tak­ing the time to explore your heart with us.

    Shame is a uni­ver­sal thing, i don’t believe its a mans thing.

    but maybe men are more shame­ful about their shame — then women? (just a thought) 

    Keep this con­ver­sa­tion going so we can all keep on growing.


  • Amaz­ing posts every­one. I am learn­ing more and more about myself and about the world after con­nect­ing to you all on Twit­ter. Thank you, thank you!

  • Vince~ I return the thanks to you for your humil­i­ty, insight and open­ness. All the best!


  • […] On Emo­tion­al Free­dom by Dan Oestreich […]

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