The Shame Web

In her book I Thought It Was Just Me, Brené Brown outlines something called the shame web. It’s something that’s very easy to get caught up in, and it’s kind of relevant to how I’m feeling today.

(I think it’s important to note, before I continue on to the contents of today’s reading, that there is a strong sense within the book that it’s written predominantly for women. Brown speaks often of the women that she interviewed for her research, with precious few mentions about how it’s applicable to men, but this book isn’t just for women. It’s for anyone that experiences shame and self-doubt, regardless of gender identity.)

Not too long ago, I sent our overnight visitor out the door to kick ass on a professional development exam, which I’m confident that she’ll do. The radio show for later this evening is in the can; all I need to do is switch over to the live stream and I’m on the air. I’ve completed my reading for the day, which led me to immediately write (I try to squeeze my learning – my brain games and my Spanish studies – in between reading and writing, but today I wanted to write while it was fresh on my mind). But once I’m done with all that, I basically have nothing to do between now and 6:00 when I go on the air. And the feeling of being alone at home is already starting to get to me. I get lonely very easily, and generally equate loneliness with being alone. Like most people, it’s possible for me to feel lonely in a crowd from time to time, but I’m almost always lonely when I’m alone.

So what’s this got to do with shame? Well, the feeling of loneliness is triggered by feeling disconnected from others, and in her book Brown states that “shame is about the fear of disconnection.” I can easily see this being true – to use the example that I’ve used in the past, when I gave the book report in fourth grade and so very obviously showed I didn’t read the book, and I was told what I had done and why it was wrong, I immediately felt like I was the only one that didn’t know what I was talking about, and that brought feelings of disconnection from the rest of the class.

The shame web is a somewhat complex construct. Fear, blame, and disconnection are in the center, and your self, your partners, your family, and your friends are in a ring of the web closest to the center. This symbolizes that shame is the most powerful when it’s enforced by one’s self or those closest to one’s self. In a ring further out from the center are your educators, teachers, membership groups, mentors, health professionals, community members, faith community, and colleagues – in other words, the rest of your sphere of influence. Influence goes both ways, and this group is the next most powerful in causing shame. Finally, in the outside ring, there’s our sphere of knowledge – film, marketing, books, music, television, advertising, media, and magazines – that together with the inner two rings dictate who we should be, what we should be, and how we should be. It’s an oversimplification, but shame can be said to originate when there’s a disconnect between what the shame web dictates we should be and what we are.

Does that mean that disconnection from others is like that disconnect in the shame web? Well, yes and no. Being cut off from others that dictate those “should be’s” to you when you’re uncertain of who and what you are, you can start to lose your sense of self and feel shame within that sensation. On the other hand, remember that your self is part of that inner ring that has the most influence over you in these matters. If you’re not who or what or how your self perceives it should be, that shame is a self-created state.

So what is the solution to this? Put simply, the solution is likely discovered further into the book – this is still chapter one I’m on here. But at least I’m starting to understand a little bit more about where my feelings of shame come from. The next step is figuring out what to do with them.


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