At first Dona was shocked, she did not expect any backlash. The surprise then slowly melted into defensiveness and anger. She thought, "who are you to tell me if I should have shame or not?" A flood of negative thoughts swirled around her head. She heard the nasty bite of shame try to rear its head. "Who do you think you are?" is really shame disguising itself as a question. What it is really saying is, "you aren't worthy or important enough to tell me what to do, who to be or how to feel. Shame on you." Yep. It quickly became a classic case of shaming the shamer. We all know that shaming the shamer is not an effective strategy as all it does is double the shame being thrown around! Thankfully, Dona had run into shame before, and knew what it looked like in her.
What came next was a reality check which led to deep curiosity and compassion. First came the realization that feeling defensive is a result of a story. The story is that "I am not good enough to do what I want to do. I am not good enough to be who I want to be. I am not good enough to feel how I choose to feel." Dona, having a seasoned sense of self-awareness, recognized this story she held about herself, and noticed how triggered she got when someone else projected that story back at her. This is a story of inheritance she insists on rewriting. Can people reauthor the story of not being good enough, not being worthy enough to do what they want to do, and not being allowed to feel how they want to feel? Before we rewrite this story for others, can we rewrite it for ourselves?
"If we're going to reauthor a narrative about shame, and really talk about it, how can we have this conversation??? How can I have this conversation?" Dona reflected on this for days. How should she respond to the comment (or should she respond at all?!)? Dona chose not to respond to the comment. However, she did come up with a plan for anyone who embarks on a conversation about shame.
1) Know your intentions. What do you want to get out of the conversation? Be honest. What do you want? What do you need? Answer these questions and then share them with the person you are talking to at the beginning of the conversation. You'll be amazed at how well people respond when your intentions are explicit to them.
2) Know what you observe, think and feel. Don't get these mixed up. Being able to clearly distinguish your thoughts/judgments, from your observations and your feelings is a critical communication skill, especially for difficult conversations. Also, notice what shame feels like in you.
3) Bring a healthy dose of empathy and understanding. Brene Brown said, "If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can't survive." This does not mean you have to agree with them. It simply means you are seeking to understand their perspective as deeply as possible.
If you've never had a shame conversation, Brene Brown's TED Talk video is a great place to start understanding shame.