Why is shame such a painful feeling?

Brown, B. (2010). Gifts of imperfection, the: Hazelden Information & Educational Services.

Sharron Frederick, October 2023

Shame, we all feel it. You snap a picture of yourself that you think is cute and post it on social media. All is fine until you go back to check your likes and see that people have posted nasty comments making us feel small, flawed and not good enough. Yep, that is the shame button. According to Brené Brown and our book of the month, The Gifts of Imperfections, “shame is the fear of being unloveable. It is that intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love, belonging and connection.

So what is shame? We have all experienced the feeling of shame making us afraid to talk about what happened. The less we talk, the more afraid we become until shame takes over and starts to control our lives. Yet what is the difference between shame and guilt? When we feel guilty we generally say “I did something bad” such as being snippy to a work colleague. This is where we will apologize for our behavior and try to change it in the future. In the case of feeling shame, we could have the same behavior; being snippy to a work colleague, but instead of feeling guilty about our behavior we say “I am a bad person for being angry.” That is where shame can be destructive.

When we experience shame, we are silenced into not telling our stories for fear that people will think less of us, causing a feeling of unworthiness. Shame is all about fear; people will not like us if they know the truth about who we really are, where we come from, what we believe and how much we are struggling. According to Brené Brown, shame needs three things to thrive; secrecy, silence and judgment.

So how do we reduce our shame? The good news is that we have to work on creating shame resilience, which is the ability to recognize the shame and move through it constructively while maintaining our worthiness and authenticity. What would someone with shame resilience be doing? First, they would understand and recognize their triggers for shame for example, you are presenting a new concept at work and perceive it as not being well received. Shame starts to creep in; “I am flawed and do not belong in this job. I am not good enough.”

Secondly, they reality-check the messages and expectations that tell them that being imperfect means being inadequate. “My concept at work may not be well received now, but I do know that the company has a hard time with change.” Or they may say “they may not like my idea, but it does not mean that I am not capable of doing this job.” Imperfect does not equal inadequate!!

Thirdly, people who are shame-resilient will reach out and find someone that they trust to tell their story to. They will speak about their shame, talking about how it makes them feel, and asking the person they are talking to what they need, whether it is a hug, kind words or just being heard.


Brown, B. (2010). Gifts of imperfection, the: Hazelden Information & Educational Services.