Unfortunately, a shame shield is not as helpful as it sounds. They are sort of like the protective wall in this post.
However, we have a tendency to think they are essential and we use them whenever we feel shame, that ‘not good enough’ feeling. That’s why it’s important to know the difference between shame and guilt, because shame shields only show up when we feel bad about ourselves. Makes sense though. Feeling shameful and bad about yourself is something that you want to get far far away from. Make that feeling go away! And, that’s just what a shame shield is designed to do – protect you from the terrible feeling of shame.
Brené Brown identified 3 different shame shields: moving away, moving towards, and moving against.
Let’s explore each of these shields with an example. Imagine that you’ve forgotten to meet your friend for coffee and she calls you from the coffee shop wondering where you are. If you feel shame, your self-talk will be about how stupid you are, what a terrible friend you are, etc. You will feel like you are bad (not that you made a simple mistake).
Using the moving away shame shield will cause you to avoid that friend. You will not want to call her and may do things to avoid running in to her. It feels so bad to even be reminded of what a terrible friend you are that you will do anything to avoid it.
If you use the moving towards shame shield, it will look a little different.This is the people pleasing shield and you will now go overboard in trying to make it up to your friend. You may do things like take her out to dinner your treat, or call her every day to apologize, or offer to drive her kids/dog/mother around for a week. You feel like you need to atone in a big way for a simple mistake.
The moving against shame shield is the aggressive way of protecting from shame. If you use this shield then you will get angry and say something mean or biting to your friend. You may blame her for your mistake, saying that she should have reminded you, or that it must be so wonderful to be perfect and never forget anything.
Let me share my own recent example with you. A few weeks ago I opened my garage door, and backed my car out into the driveway, right into my housekeeper’s truck. BAM! I knew she was parked there, but I just wasn’t thinking about it when I backed out – I was on autopilot and thinking about where I was headed next and not about what was behind me.
As she and I were standing in the driveway assessing the damage (fortunately not a whole lot), I wanted to run away from there as fast as possible. I think I said sorry and a few other lame things before I skedaddled away. I felt terrible and so stupid! I felt shame, even though my husband had done the exact same thing just a couple of years before.
As I was escaping the scene of the crime by using the moving away shame shield, I began using the moving against shame shield too. I started to mentally berate my housekeeper for parking in the driveway (even though that’s where she always parks and I was home when I’m usually not). I was desperately trying to make it her fault, even though I knew it wasn’t.
The rational logical part of me kept telling myself that it was a mistake and it was OK, but the emotional part of me kept hijacking my common sense.
There is no way to escape shame; we can only become resilient to it. That’s what Brené Brown’s curriculum The Daring Way is all about and what I help my clients to learn.
So what did I do? I shared my driveway accident with my husband, who said ‘Oh! I’ve done that too!’ (He literally did!) And, we joked about now being in the same club. And, I practiced kindness to myself and didn’t allow any continued berating or blaming of myself or my housekeeper.
You can’t eliminate shame and you will pick up one or more of the shame shields. The trick is to spot it when it happens and practice the resilience skills, like sharing, empathy, and self compassion. I’ll be sharing much more about these skills in the future.
Which shame shield do you usually pick up? Is there one that fits more comfortably than another? How do you put down the shield?