How shame makes you lonely and how to build resilience in 4 steps

Have you ever been ashamed? Ashamed that you are not famous yet? Ashamed for being famous, but not enjoying it as much as you thought you would be? Ashamed that you didn’t reach your 5-year goals? Ashamed for not being as cool as the all think you are? Ashamed for who you are, not worth to belong to the great people around you?

Shame makes you feel lonely, because it affects you as a person.  If you feel guilty, it is always about a concrete situation or behavior. You can do it better the next time. Shame though makes you think that you are worthless as a person, that you are the only one, and that there is nothing you can do to change it.

In the last couple of months I was overworked, close to a burn-out. In the music business, people still don’t really talk about it. Everyone is busy all the time, showing how great they are. Sometimes at conferences it looks like a competition of silver-backs on the ape-rock. Everyone is just one hour away from having discovered the next super star. You can’t afford any weakness in this stiff competition. A couple of months ago I felt ashamed for me needing to rest, for not being able to go on like everyone else.

Reading “I thought it was just me” by Bren√© Brown was an eye-opener. As a scientist, she has researched shame and developed a theory on how you can build resilience against shame.

For women, shame often arises from contradictory expectations. One common example is around motherhood. As a working mother you are pushed to stay at home, otherwise you are neglecting your child. But if you stay at home for the child, you are pushed to work, to build your career and fulfill your role in society. As a mom you can never do it right.

There are 12 territories that shame does concentrate, motherhood is one of them. Here a list of all 12 territories:
– motherhood
– looks and body image
– family
– education
– money and work
– mental and physical health
– sex
– getting older
– belief and religion
– getting labeled
– giving your opinion
– endure a trauma

For men it’s pretty simple: you have to be strong and in control. All the time. Every time you don’t win, every time you are not at the top, you are a loser and should be ashamed about yourself. That is how society thinks about men. All the territories above (except for motherhood) are valid for men too. No conflicting messages, only the aim to be the boss over everyone around you, in a very competitive way. And if you can’t be on top of all, it is your fault, you are not good enough.

The music business is very much male dominated. The shame-theory of Brown offers a very good explanation for the macho atmosphere in the music business. Everyone fights for himself. And if you are having a less good period, you are the loser, not worth for others to do business with you.

Brown developed 4 steps that help you to build resilience against shame. Resilience, because you can’t dismiss it, it will always come back. It is the natural fear of being isolated from the group, that works very contra-productive in modern society. You have to deal with shame time after time again, but you can make it easier for yourself with these 4 steps.

1. Recognize that you are ashamed and realize what triggers your shame.
I grew up as a farmers daughter. One of my triggers for shame is the fear that I do not work hard enough. Realizing this, it is no wonder that I was heading towards a burn-out.

2. Develop a critical awareness.
Critical awareness is about investigating the context. Often it means that you realize, that you are not the only one. I know many people in the music business have had a burn-out, most of them just don’t talk about it. Most of them are still working in the music industry.

3. Make contact.
Shame tells you to isolate yourself. It’s not the other people that ignore you, it’s something within yourself that makes you think you have to isolate yourself. Here it is important to know people that you can talk about your shame, people that can help you to put in into perspective.

4. Tell that you are ashamed.
This might be the most difficult part. When you isolate yourself, you do so because you don’t want to show what you are ashamed off. Only after you have realized that you are not the only one, that it happens to many people, and that you are still worth all the love in the world, you can come open about your shame.

The 4 steps apply to men and to women. Once we start talk about the things we are ashamed of, maybe the music business will become a bit less macho and a bit more inclusive towards women. Let us start to make waves, like a stone in a lake. The audience will feel it too, and they will carry it home. That’s why I started to tell about me being overworked. I hope to encourage others to share their experiences too.

Because it is not just you!


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