Why do we even feel shame?

If you know me, you know that I think Brene Brown is a freaking genius.  I hold that opinion for many reasons, but a big one is because of how she defines shame because I think it is so on point.  She says, “Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.”  This definition, for me, explains with such clarity and conciseness, the emotion that seems to be the root of so many people’s struggles.  The idea that there is a thing we could do or say that would make us unworthy of love and belonging drives self-talk, behavior, relationship conflict, poor communication and much of the distress we feel throughout our lives.  And the reality is that we ALL feel shame.   We are born with the capacity to feel it because it is a part of our human experience.


It is my belief that all emotions serve a purpose in our lives.  Every single emotion we feel exists for a reason and has a function in our life.  Even shame.  Now, don’t misunderstand what I mean when I say that because I am not saying “shame is actually a good thing” because it definitely sucks.  I just mean that there is an origin to why we feel shame.  It is a primitive emotion that we have felt since the beginning of time (as far as I know-I am not old enough to have been around since the beginning of time).

We begin our lives with our” Family of Choice.”  These are the people with whom we form our primary attachments.  In many cases, this is referring to our biological parents, but it can also include adoptive parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc.  Around the adolescent stage, we begin to separate from that original family and begin to look for out “Family of Choice.”  If you think about it in terms of us as our indigenous selves, we begin to look for our tribe.  We leave the nest and find a group of people who will love and support us the same way that our “Family of Origin” did and when we find them, we feel a sense of belonging.  That is why we are wired to feel shame-so that we can asses the tribes around us and determine which one we belong to…and then determine how we need to behave so that we can fit into the social norms of our tribe and be protected by the individuals in it.  Shame actually exists because it is a means of garnering protection so that we can survive this life.


In 2019, we are no longer our indigenous selves, so shame has taken on a very different form in our brains.  Now, it is the thought that tells us that we are not good enough to belong to the tribe.  It has become an automatic thought that is simply not true.  And it is because this thought has become so automatic, that we need to work hard to combat it.  You know what, though?  You. Are. Worth. The. Effort. To. Change. That. Thought. You are worth every single ounce of that effort.   I know how hard that work is and if you are reading this thinking “I just don’t have it in me,” trust me when I tell you that I feel you on a spiritual level.  But I also know that you are so much more resilient than you know.


And you know what else?  Your tribe is out there.  In fact, in our modern-day times, I think we have several tribes.  Sometimes, we find them in high school and they last, sometimes we find them in college, or at our jobs, or in our neighborhood groups.  That sense of belonging is important as well as the village of people who are available to support you, if you are just willing to let them.  You are enough, just as you are.   Keep looking for your tribe if you have not yet found it and listen to them when they tell you, with their words or their deeds, that you are a valuable gift to this world.


With Gratitude, Jessica Brubaker

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