A catch-up post for the four books I have read so far in 2016.
The full title of this book, I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn’t): Making the Journey from “What Will People Think?” to “I Am Enough” gives an indication about what it’s about, but its primary focus is on Brené Brown‘s seven years of research into shame, in particular the effects of shame on women.
Shame isn’t something I ever thought people conducted research into. It didn’t strike me as something that anyone would give much thought to. I got interested when I was reading another of Brené’s books, The Gifts of Imperfection, last year, and she talks about her shame research in that book. I was intrigued and wanted to know more, so I read this book, which was published in 2007.
In the introduction, Brené says that shame is an emotion that everyone experiences but no one wants to talk about. The book begins with a discussion of what shame is, and makes a distinction between feelings of shame – feeling flawed and unworthy (I am bad) – and guilt, the feeling you get when you’ve done something you feel bad about (I did something bad).
One of the key points raised in the book is that people are biologically wired for connection, and so “when we are experiencing shame, we are steeped in the fear of being ridiculed, diminished or seen as flawed”, and are therefore not worthy of acceptance. Brené says that “as long as connection is critical, the threat of disconnection that leads to shame will also be part of our lives”.
The book goes on to discuss shame resilience, an ability to recognise when we are feeling shame and to move through shame in a constructive way.
Chapters 3, 4, 5 and 6 describe the four elements of shame resilience, beginning with recognising shame and understanding our triggers, practising critical awareness, reaching out, and finally speaking out about shame. There are some written exercises that readers can complete to help them understand how to apply these elements to their own circumstances.
The next three chapters cover the practices of courage, compassion and connection, and look at issues such as how society’s expectations, perfectionism, stereotyping and addiction contribute to shame. In these chapters Brené discusses how to use the strategies from chapters 3-6 in these practices.
The book uses examples from people Brené spoke to during the course of her reasearch, including four women whose stories unfold over the course of the book. Brené also uses examples from her own life to help explain the concepts.
I was drawn into this book from the first page. I wouldn’t have described the way I felt about myself as “shame”, but reading this book I realised the feelings I have of inadequacy, unworthiness, inauthenticity and imperfection are exactly the things Brené is talking about in this book. It’s kind of a relief to know that what I feel is real, and if what she’s saying is correct, it’s normal, but because people don’t speak about it, people feel like they’re the only one that feels like this.
The book is specifically about women and shame, but Brené touches on the issue of male shame. She notes that, while there are differences between why men and women experience shame, we’re all the same in needing to feel accepted and to believe that we belong and are accepted. For men it’s about the masculine “norms” of not being “weak, soft, fearful, inadequate, powerless and incapable”, whether this is stated explicitly to someone’s face or implied more subtly on a societal level.
I think it will take more than one reading of this book, and a lot of thought, for me to take it all in, but this is one of those books I am extremely grateful to have stumbled on. There’s a lot I can get out of it, and need to explore further.