Book Club: Daring Greatly, Week 3

Kim W Freeman   |   November 19, 2014 

Daring Greatly


“You know that you are far more than a painting, an innovative idea, an effective pitch, a good sermon, or a high ranking.” (Page 64)

It's week three of our book club. This week we'll be looking at one of the most important and difficult topics in Daring Greatly: Shame. In Chapter 3, Understanding and Combating Shame, Brené Brown delves more deeply into what shame is, why we need to develop a resiliency to it and her suggestions for doing just that.

Throughout her research, Brown saw that shame influences every aspect of our lives-- how we live, love in relationships, parent our children or lead others. How we grew up and to the extent we felt shame has lasting effects on all of those areas of our lives. As a parent I let that sink in... then gasp because I know at one point or another I'm sure I've shamed my children so I could change their behavior. It's how many of us ourselves were raised-- even if we had well-intentioned parents.

As someone who has to fight to feel comfortable in my own skin and not attach self-worth to what I do or produce, shame is part of my story, as I'm sure most of you could say the same. Brown says later on that only sociopaths don't feel shame-- so I guess that's a good thing, in this case, I have.

I like what she says on page 64:

"A sense of worthiness inspires us to be vulnerable, share openly, and persevere. Shame keeps us small, resentful, and afraid. In shame-prone cultures, where parents, leaders, and administrators consciously or unconsciously encourage people to connect their self-worth to what they produce, I see disengagement, blame, gossip, stagnation, favoritism and a total dearth of creativity and innovation."

We've all seen it. When someone feels loved and completely free they blossom and thrive; On the other hand, when someone feels constantly put down, criticized or under-valued, they close up, like a dried out flower. Perhaps this has happened to you somewhere along the way and reading this book is helping you work through some of the lies so you can move toward truth? My hope is that if shame is part of your story, then this book is helping you recognize it and move in a new direction.

In all this, the bad news is that what's done is done and we can't change the past. The good news is we can stop the record player in our heads from repeating the same negative choruses over and over and move towards living wholehearted, shame-free, vulnerable lives.

Brown's unpacking of what shame is helpful at this point. Her definition of shame is this:

Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging. (Page 68)

Shame is not guilt. Guilt is understanding you've done something bad. Shame says I am bad. The difference as she describes it (and I'm really condensing things here) is that guilt has a positive effect-- it means that we've done something that doesn't align with our values, so we are motivated to change our behavior. If we experience shame, then we attach our worth to our behavior (the feeling of not enough that she mentioned earlier). People who feel shame tend to blame others or something outside of ourselves as a source of protection instead of admitting wrongs and moving forward. Shame keeps you stuck. (Page 72)

As I read this and think of examples from my own life, I can see the cyclical effects of shame. Shame seems to lead to behaviors that inevitably cause more shame. And it spreads. When we feel the weight of shame on us, it spills over on to others who are close to us or those we lead. Under the guise of being a helpful way to influence behavior, shame often leads to worse behavior in the long-run.

So what do we do about shame?

Brown calls it shame resilience. It's "the ability to practice authenticity when we experience shame, to move through the experience without sacrificing our values, and to come out on the other side of the shame experience with more courage, compassion, and connection than we had going into it. Shame resilience is about moving from shame to empathy-- the real antidote to shame."  (Page 74)

One of the first things she talks about in cultivating shame resilience is sharing your story with someone who will empathize with you. Perhaps they haven't experienced what you have, but they are the people who try to understand your point of view and walk alongside you. Not people who heap on more condemnation or criticism or even try to "fix" the problem. Listeners who understand you at your core and really listen to your story. She also lists out four steps that we won't cover here, but are definitely worth another look at along with some self-examination to see how we are responding to shame and how we might better do so.

And if you're married or know any men--at all, the latter part of the chapter was also helpful as she delves into how shame affects men and women differently.

Women tend to feel the most shame about how they look, followed by motherhood (if they are a mother or not, how they mother, etc). And I may have said an audible "Amen" when she said this on page 86 because it feels true in my own life: "But the real struggle for women--what amplifies shame regardless of category-- is that we're expected (and sometimes desire) to be perfect, yet we're not allowed to look as if we're working for it... natural beauties, natural mothers, natural leaders, and naturally good parents, and we want to belong to naturally fabulous families."

There's so much there, just for women, but then she gets to men and how the message they receive all throughout life is "never be perceived as weak." And I can see how in my own relationships with the opposite sex I have expected constant strength to be present and have flinched if I saw weakness. Why? I'm not sure I even know. But it doesn't seem quite fair, does it? The expectation of constant strength isn't realistic and we can't want vulnerability on one side with open discussions about difficult subjects and real hurts on the hand and on the other expect men to be a tower of strength that is never bothered by hurt or pain. No wonder men think women are so confusing!

I find myself agreeing with so much of what she says in this chapter. But the truth is, it's hard to change old patterns of shame. It's hard to take the information and apply it all, even though I think it would be transformational to my life and the life of my family.

Next week we'll look at Chapters 4 and 5. I hope you'll read along with us and come back eager to discuss.

So what did you think? What did you take away from this chapter because you believe it could change the way you live and love and lead? Let us know in the comments below. 

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Kim W Freeman is the wearer of many hats: a wife to Jon, mother of five, co-founder of IndiAanya, artist and writer. She has a heart to see women grow in their faith and do life together in authentic community. Her perfect day would include cinnamon cappuccino, scones, rainy weather and an inspiring conversation. She haphazardly blogs over at her own place about life, art and spiritual formation at She and her crew live in Charlotte, NC.

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