Shame: Brené Brown, Doctors and Perfectionism:
Life lessons this week

April 2019

"Shame is when you can't pull off looking like it's under control" - Brené Brown (author and Harvard research professor).

Have you ever have one of those weeks with a recurring theme that just won't go away?

This week, that happened to me. With the word "shame". Or more precisely, the feeling of shame.

Shame, it seems, was everywhere. And it wasn't just me.

I read a shame-filled Facebook post from someone who had lost her temper with her husband and kids after a heavy week at work. Her brave admission prompted others to share stories of tears at work and home, swearing at bleeps that fail to stop screeching, and letters of resignation drafted in the small hours of the shift from hell. The exhaustion and frustration provoking these moments came tumbling out from stressed-out sympathisers. As medics, most of us have been there, haven't we?

Then came the brave revelations of two much-admired GPs, raising their heads above the parapet to speak up and out about sexism in the BMA. Followed by colleagues sharing similar experiences from within all areas of the NHS.

It made me think of silence, and how shame loves silence.Thriving in the quietest corners of self-doubt and whispering, "is it just me?"

"Shame derives its power from being unspeakable" - Brené Brown.

I had my own moment of shame a few months ago, falling short in an assessment and being told I needed a bit of extra practice. I felt ashamed for not being perfect; for realising there was a chink in my armour. Shame loves perfectionists.

But this week, inspired by Brené Brown and those brave GPs, I put my hand up and did something about it. I outed myself as needing extra help on a Whastapp group, whose members are mostly strangers to me.

Confronting, naming and sharing my shame allowed others to put their hands up too and share that they had also felt shame. I didn't feel alone anymore. And the shame started to dissipate.

Like sharing stories of lost tempers and revelations of sexism, speaking up and out allows others to name their feelings and make them speakable.

And when shame dissipates, I believe it makes room for a new type of power, which I will blog about in the future.

So here are five things I've been reminded of this week:

1. How important it is to name, acknowledge and speak our feelings. To not be ashamed to say, "this hurts".

2. That sharing our named emotions lets us know we’re not alone: pick somewhere small, safe and supportive to do this, if possible.

3. That sharing our experiences and feelings allows others to name and share theirs.

4. Sometimes the pain of doing nothing about powerful emotions is worse in the long run than the discomfort of dealing with them now.

5. When we can name and speak about our shame, we allow ourselves to grow. And that's how problems can start to turn into possibilities.

As Brené Brown writes: "Yes, shame is tough to talk about. But the conversation isn't really as dangerous as what we're creating with our silence".

Do add your thoughts and comments below and share with anyone who might find this blog useful.

Liz is a GP in London and coaches doctors

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