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Shame is, indeed, one of the most powerful emotions we feel—and, sadly, it doesn’t take much to evoke it in another. Particularly if your resources are thin or your confidence is low. Brene Brown’s words to describe this emotion make sense to me: “Shame is the fear of disconnection—it’s the fear that something we’ve done or failed to do, an ideal we’ve not lived up to, or a goal that we’ve not accomplished makes us unworthy of connection. I’m unlovable. I don’t belong.” 

I sat with those words for some time. The fear of disconnection. Of course, connection is so powerful, so much so that we need it like air. We’d forgo relationships if we feel shame. Miss huge opportunities, go broke, and risk losing everything, at the expense of shame. Just imagine what happens to your ability to look and see another when you are full of shame.  

It’s amazing to me that we perpetuate practices within cultures that promote shame and embarrassment, thinking these measures will somehow produce resilient, productive souls who are confident enough to stay connected to one another. I have never been surer that, in an organization or system where shame is practiced as a form of behavioral control (e.g., within the justice system, the education system, some farming communities, or sports organizations), the result will not be happy, well people.  

Further, in some institutions shame tactics are used as training practices. For example, according to the US Department of Justice, most police recruits receive their training in academies with a stress-based military orientation. These training programs are often modeled after a military boot camp, characterized by paramilitary drills, daily inspections, intense physical demands, public discipline, withholding of privileges, and an immediate reaction to infractions. In fact, the high-stress paramilitary model of training results in police practices that are contrary to democratic and, certainly, empathic considerations. A structure using relationships, experiential learning, and critical thinking would be significantly more effective. 

We know this to be true. There is essentially no evidence in this generation that those best practices that many of these organizations were built on are supported; and furthermore, they are increasingly harming the emotional culture and subsequent functioning of their employees. 

I continue this conversation in my latest book, Feeling Seen. I think it’s a massively critical concept to discuss in this time of great disconnect in the world. Making someone feel seen – that is the antidote to shame. But how do we make others feel seen? Well, it requires a massive paradigm shift, that’s all. Easy peasy, right? Not exactly. I explore these big ideas in so much more detail in Feeling Seen – get your copy here, friends!

I promise it’s what we need right now. It’s what I needed, too. 

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