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Shame and What to Do About It


I answered the question wrong, I know it as soon as the words leave my mouth. The guy at the Subaru service center is looking at me curiously. Let me backup a little bit. 

I brought my daughter’s car in to get the battery either replaced or charged up. The guy behind the counter was nice enough to give me a hotline number to call because the battery may be covered by Subaru from a recall currently in place. I’ve been on the phone for 15 minutes talking to various people. Finally, they ask me questions pertaining to the battery. Has the battery died in the last six months? I said, “No.” I figured the guy asking me thought that, since I was already calling this hotline and I was in the dealership because my battery died, that we were talking about this in the present scenario. How wrong I was! 

The man from the hotline said, “Well, then you’re not eligible. Thank you and have a nice day.” Then the phone was dead. 

I looked up at the guy at the service desk. He looked at me inquisitively. Now, dear reader, you’re all caught up. I wasn’t sure how to tell him how it went. I was just going to simply say that the battery wasn’t covered. I was going to leave it at that. I was going to pay extra money all because of the fact that I was ashamed. I was ashamed because I did not figure out that the guy on the hotline was talking about my historical battery issues, not the current issue that brought me to the service center. 

I took a moment to take a deep breath, and I realized what I was feeling. I gave a little bit of a chuckle, and said, “I’m pretty sure I just answered that question wrong and now I gotta go back and do it all over again.” I explained what happened and I actually found understanding. 

The guy said, “Of course you thought that he wasn’t talking about now!” So I felt understood, and I was also able to laugh at myself a little. But, without that pause and that acknowledgment that I was feeling ashamed, well…I would’ve been paid a lot of money that I didn’t have to.

Shame is one of those things that we all have and we don’t talk about. As Brené Brown, researcher and storyteller, an expert on shame, connection, and vulnerability said, “The problem with shame is the more you have it, the less you talk about it. And, the less you talk about it, the more you have it.” Forget about car batteries, this can cost you your relationships, true connection, and cause real isolation because you are trapped by an emotion that just about everybody on the face of this earth has had at one point or another.

So what can we do about shame? The very first thing we can do is realize that to get rid of shame, or at least to lessen it so you can move into another feeling, is that you do have to talk about it. You don’t have to shout it from the rooftops. You don’t have to tell people you don’t know. But your trusted friends, your loved ones, people that you feel close to and that you trust will be able to hear what you have to say. Consider letting them know from the beginning that the thing you’re going to talk about has caused you to feel shame, so they can prepare themselves to be supportive and also connect with empathy. What you’re likely to hear is something along the lines of, “Yeah I’ve been there. I’ve done that and that sucks.” The minute you know you’re not alone the shame begins to dissipate. Why? Because all of shame’s power is in the fact that you agree to hold it secret and ‘safe’.

Yet, when we feel shame, how safe do we actually feel? Remember, what Brene Brown said about the vicious cycle that shame creates? When we strip shame of its power, that power goes back to us!

Another thing you can do about shame is realize that it’s probably telling you something that you need to address. It’s not twisting an evil mustache–it’s not good or bad. It’s not tying you down on emotional train tracks to make you suffer. It is quite simply an emotion. And, like all emotions, it’s an advisor. When you notice it coming up for you, is it trying to let you know that you need to think differently or take an action? Once you determine why shame is there, you will find that it will dissipate all on its own.

I’m going to call that hotline now and see if my car battery is covered by the recall. I can tell you this: regardless of whether or not I have to pay full price for a new battery, or I get it 100% paid for…I feel better from the fact that I had the courage to feel the shame and acknowledge the error that brought that feeling up for me. Maybe it wasn’t my brightest moment, but shame was really only there to tell me that I had made a mistake. I’m human. I can only correct my error now and move on. Time to make that call…

If you would like to learn tools and skills to help you improve your emotional aptitude, reduce your emotional isolation, lessen your avoidance of shame, fear, and anxiety, and enable yourself to reach your goals, break old habits, or create new ones, I can help. I provide emotional resilience coaching, so you can achieve your goals.  We can meet either virtually or in person at my office in Waterbury, Vermont.  Just click the button or the link below for a free consultation and let’s talk. 

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