I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn’t) | Brené Brown

Summary of: I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn’t): Making the Journey from “What Will People Think?” to “I Am Enough”
By: Brené Brown


In the book ‘I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn’t): Making the Journey from “What Will People Think?” to “I Am Enough”‘, Brené Brown explores the powerful emotion of shame and its effects on our lives. Delving into the many ways in which shame manifests itself, Brown discusses tools and strategies to overcome shame and foster healthier relationships. Through recognizing shame, cultivating empathy, and understanding the role of critical awareness, you will be equipped to not only address shame in your own life but also support others in dealing with this pervasive emotion. Brown’s direct and insightful approach will both educate and inspire readers of all backgrounds.

The Power of Shame

Shame is a deeply painful sensation caused by a lack of empathy and rejection. It stems from the belief that we’re not good enough, and that this shortcoming will prevent us from being accepted by and belonging to a group.

Many people avoid discussing the emotion of shame because it’s uncomfortable. Shame is a visceral emotion that’s challenging to articulate. However, shame has to do with a feeling of not being good enough and the exposure of aspects of ourselves that we tend to hide.

According to the author’s interviews with over 300 people about how they experience shame, she discovered that shame is a negative feeling connected to a sense of rejection. The author also discovered that shame is caused by a lack of empathy. Based on this information, the author defined shame as a deeply painful sensation.

Shame arises when people seek compassion but instead experience rejection. For example, in the author’s study, one participant’s mother persistently shamed her because of her weight. Another participant’s mother committed suicide, and instead of support and compassion, she was ostracized by her fellow students.

In summary, shame is a powerful emotion that stems from rejection, a lack of empathy and the exposure of aspects of ourselves that we tend to hide.

Overcoming Shame with Empathy

Shame is a universal emotion that can be managed with empathy. In this book, the author asserts that empathy is the antidote for shame. She explains that it is important not only to receive empathy but also to empathize with others. The author highlights that empathy is achieved by being present and aware of the other person’s story, and to see things from their perspective without judging. Sharing a difficult experience with another person and knowing that it is not unusual or uncommon helps alleviate shame. The author shares a personal experience of how her friend helped her overcome shame with her empathetic response. Understanding how to relieve shame is critical, and the first step is to learn how to identify when you are experiencing it.

Overcoming Shame through Self-Awareness

Recognizing and understanding shame triggers can help individuals overcome it and emerge stronger.

Ignoring physical or mental illnesses only aggravates the situation, and the same applies to shame. To deal with shame, one must first recognize it. Research shows that people who can accurately identify and describe their shame are better at handling it. Shame can manifest in different ways like dry mouth, difficulty swallowing, trembling, or even getting out of bed. Identifying one’s shame triggers enables one to overcome it. However, shame triggers are highly personal and dependent on negative personal experiences from one’s early life.

For instance, Sylvia made an error at work and ended up on the company’s loser list, which triggered deep feelings of shame. Her father had always told her and her sister that nobody likes losers, and that there’s nothing worse than being one. Knowing one’s shame triggers allows a step back when the emotion levels flare up. This reflective stance helps in processing the feeling and emerging positively.

In conclusion, recognizing and understanding one’s shame triggers is the key to overcoming shame and emerging stronger.

The Power of Critical Awareness

The ability to be critically aware is vital in handling shame. When we take a step back and observe the social causes of shame triggered by society’s expectations and industry manipulation, we can address it more effectively. The author uses her personal experience to highlight the importance of critical awareness in understanding why and how things happen. By being more aware, we can zoom out and grasp the bigger picture, which in turn helps us to normalize shame and take away its power.

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