SHAME: The REAL Culprit Behind the Mask


Earlier this week, I asked the question, “What Mask Are You Wearing?” Today, I think it is appropriate to talk about one of the main culprits that cause us to wear our masks – SHAME which everyone has. However, before I go any further, I think it is important to distinguish between shame and guilt because sometimes we use them interchangeably and they are different. Brene Brown describes them best –

  • SHAME is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging. Shame is about who you are. Example: I am a bad parent.
  • GUILT occurs when we hold up something we’ve done or failed to do against the type of person we want to be. Guilt is about something that you did. Example: I did not go to my daughter’s play because I had to work.

The premise of both is fear of not being loved and connected. Both of which are our strongest needs because we all have a primal need for connection and love.

According to Dr. Linda Hartling, the Director of Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies at the Stone Center, when we experience shame, we respond in the following ways. We move

  1. Away from it – withdraw, hide, become silent, keep secrets
  2. Towards it – appeasing and pleasing other
  3. Against it (gain power over it) – aggressive and use shame to fight shame

My chosen course of action is always # 1 and depends on who I am with and where I am #2. You’ll notice that in most or all of my writings I give examples from my personal experience. This wasn’t always the case. In the past, I was so ashamed that I would not share aspects of my personal life. However, as I embark on my ‘healing journey’ I learned that one way for me to grow and claim my presence in this world was to share not only the good things but some of the not so good things because shame thrives on secrets.
The deeper and darker the secret and the longer we carry it, the more difficult it is to overcome.

The following are some questions to help you to start mastering your shame.

  1. What are you ashamed of?
  2. When shame raises its ugly head, what do you do – 1, 2 or 3 above?

Until next time…



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