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Shame & Accountability

When shame arises it is usually because you have behaved in a way that does not align with how you see yourself or who you want to become.  In other words, shame lets you know that you have behaved in a way that is not in integrity with your values.  Heeding this shame alarm you would then, ideally, move back into alignment with your values.  This usually means making amends with those impacted by your behavior and taking action to meet the needs that went unmet because of your behavior.


Unfortunately, you might not experience such a straightforward relationship to shame as described above.  You may have internalized the tragic relationship to shame that is often modeled.  Shame is often modeled as a way to create accountability.  The thought is, that if you shame someone enough they will change their behavior and become a better person.  Of course, this doesn't actually work.  You can reflect on your own experience of shame and see how often it keeps you from behaving from a grounded wise place in yourself.  You can also find research related to shame and punishment that reveals a lack of long term behavior change.  In short, being ashamed of who you are doesn't create accountability.


What usually happens is that the confusion that shame will create accountability results in a shame loop.  In a shame loop you return to the things you did again and again, each time shaming yourself for your behavior.  This drains you of the emotional and physical resources you need to make real changes that will support true accountability.


To get out of the shame loop, first, notice it's happening.  (See this Connection Gem if you need help with that:  span style="font-size: 16px; font-family: Verdana; color: rgb(17, 85, 204); text-decoration: underline; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap; background-color: transparent;"> When you become aware, soften, breath through your heart, relax and expand around it.  Name it as clearly as you can.  Label every aspect of shame you notice; physical, verbal, energetic, images, etc.  This is called engaging your compassionate witness.


Then name the needs that weren't met by the behavior to which shame is alarming you.  Take three full breaths while focusing only on these needs.  Mindfully focusing on the needs helps you access the resourcing energy of those needs.  


Next decide how you are or will tend to those needs in the current situation or a future similar situation.  Make sure this action is specific and do-able.  Each time  you successfully care for those needs take time to mindfully notice and celebrate.  This helps you gain confidence that you are living in accord with your values and develops true accountability.  


Engaging in this process of accountability will not likely dissolve the shame loop immediately.  Shame loops are habits.  As with any habit, it takes intention and practice to replace it with new life serving behaviors.  The habit of shame may take you back to the same behaviors again and again.  That's okay.  It is simply another opportunity to practice the new behaviors of compassionate witnessing and accountability.  Each time you engage with shame in this way, it loses its hold on you.



Take a moment now to reflect on something you did that you still have a sense of shame about and engage this practice.  Here it is in brief:

  1. Engage your compassionate witness naming the shame experience as clearly as you can.

  2. Mindfully name the needs unmet by your behavior.  Focus on the needs solely for three full breaths.

  3. Identify how you are or will take action to meet these needs in the current situation or a future similar situation.

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Judgment vs. Discernment

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