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10 shame triggers for women, and 5 ways to overcome them

Posted May 29

I was seated between a friend and the mayor at a charity event when the mayor said to me, “I don’t think we’ve met. What do you do?”

I took a deep breath. I was so prepared for this question. “I run the Montclair Experiment Station.”

The mayor blinked. “The what?”

My friend, clearly embarrassed for me, rushed to explain, “That’s what she calls her homeschool. She stays home with her kids. All day.”

The mayor stared at me awkwardly for a long moment before turning to the man on her other side.

I excused myself to the bathroom, sat on the toilet and blinked back tears. What was wrong with me? I worked hard at being the best teacher and mom I could be. Why did I think the name for my homeschool was clever when apparently it was embarrassing? If my friend had given me a chance to explain, I had what I thought was a clever explanation. But maybe that was embarrassing too. Maybe I was embarrassing.

I was in the throes of shame.

Shame is the intensely painful feeling that we are somehow flawed, unworthy of love and acceptance. According to Brené Brown—a research professor who studies vulnerability, courage, worthiness and shame—no one gets a free pass in life. We all encounter feelings of shame.

Shame can hit us out of the blue if we don’t know what our shame triggers are. And getting sucker punched with anything, particularly shame, isn’t on anyone’s list of top things to do. The good news is, you can start to develop what Brené Brown calls shame resiliency.

Shame resiliency is the ability to recognize what’s happening when someone trips your shame trigger and to respond by recognizing your self-worth, rather than falling into a pit of shame. It starts with knowing what your shame triggers are.

People in shame tend to do one of three things—get angry, run and hide, or try to gain acceptance by being overly submissive. Fight, flight, or fawn.

There are a few categories where almost all women experience shame. When someone trips one of these triggers, remind yourself that you’re feeling shame not because there is something wrong with you, but because someone tripped a shame trigger.

Appearance and body image

I don’t think anyone is surprised to hear body image tops the list of shame triggers for women. Almost without exception women feel shame about something related to their appearance. Society sends strong messages that we must look a certain way to be loved and accepted. (Lies!)

Motherhood, family and parenting

If you think the body image messages are strong, wait until you hear how messages on motherhood and parenting are delivered! Everyone from childless strangers to mothers-in-law seems to have opinions on our families.

Money and employment

Whether women work inside or outside the home, as the breadwinners or budgeting what someone else earns, money and employment issues can trigger shame.

Mental and physical health

Admitting weakness, even to ourselves, can bring on feelings of unworthiness. For some reason we feel like we are supposed to be in peak physical and mental condition at all times.

Sex

A forbidden topic of discussion in many homes and cultures, sex triggers deep feelings of shame for many. Media portrayal of dysfunctional relationships and pornography contribute to making this a landmine-strewn emotional topic.

Aging

In a society that values youth and vitality, getting older is viewed as something to be avoided (how exactly?) rather than celebrated as a sign of increasing wisdom.

Religion

Oh. Sorry. Did I bring up the R word? Admitting to holding (or not holding) religious values can be an isolating and deeply shaming experience.

Stereotypes and labels

When we feel like others see us as “one of them,” it creates feelings of being excluded and unloved.

Speaking out

Society gives women strong messages that we are supposed to be small and quiet, submissive and agreeable. Women say “sorry” much more often than men. When men speak up they are seen as authoritative leaders while women who do the same are often seen as rude and emotional. But really, how are we supposed to function in life without speaking up?

Surviving trauma and abuse

Admitting, even to ourselves, that we experienced abuse brings up those feelings all over again, causing us to feel week and unvalued.

Developing shame resiliency

Despite the universal experience of shame, while some people crumble under the weight of shame, others come out stronger! These people have developed shame resilience. There are a few things they have in common—things we can all learn to do.

  1. Know your shame triggers. Look them in the eye and call them what they are. (You—Fat Label—are a shame trigger.)
  2. Figure out how shame trigger thinking is flawed. So you aren’t built like a runway model. So what? You have value in a million other ways. Remind yourself what they are.
  3. Know what shame feels like in your own body. Do you start sweating? Feel like you’re going to vomit? Shake? Become unable to breathe? Whatever they are, recognize the physical signs that your body is going into “fight, flight or fawn” because of shame.
  4. Share your story with someone you trust. When you experience shame, confide in a friend who understands and can remind you of how wonderful you are. Sharing shame with someone else eliminates shame much the same way that opening the curtains eliminates shadows.
  5. Speak shame. Call it what it is. When you share your story or think about how you are feeling, call shame what it is. “Hey! I’m feeling shame because he just mentioned my paycheck. That’s one of my shame triggers.”

Rebecca Watson is a student in Intelligence Studies at the American Military University, a Private Investigator, and the mother of six. Contact her at RebeccaPi3.14@gmail.com

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