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

Making the Journey from “What Will People Think?” To “I Am Enough” Book Review

AUTHOR: Brene Brown, Ph.D., LMSW

BOOK REVIEW BY: Beverly Johnson-Moberg


The information in this book, addresses the issue that shame has been misunderstood and the effects it has on people’s lives has until recently been discounted by social scientists. As a shame researcher, Bene Brown spent seven years of groundbreaking research interviewing hundreds of participants of all ages, genders, races, ethnicities and life situations and learned : “We all experience shame. It is an absolute universal emotion. She states that the less we know about shame and how it affects our feelings, thoughts and behaviors, the more power it exerts over our lives. However, if we can find the courage to talk about shame and the compassion to listen, we can change the way we live, love, parent, and build relationships.”

Key Points & Their Meaning:

1 – Shame is universal. To varying degrees, we all know the struggle to feel comfortable with who we are in a society that puts so much importance on being perfect and fitting in. Shame is an emotion It is how we feel when we have had certain circumstances. When we are in shame, we don’t see the big picture; we don’t accurately think about our strengths and limitations. We just feel alone, exposed and deeply flawed. “Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of acceptance and belonging”. (Brene Brown)

2 – We all have had shaming experiences. We can all recall experiences of feeling rejected, diminished and ridiculed and we have learned to fear those feelings. We learned how to change our behaviors, thinking and feelings to avoid feeling shame. In the process, we changed who we were at that time ad and, in many instances, who we are now. We look outside of ourselves for validation and try to please people rather than being guided by our internal values. We give up who we are to please rather than grow into our authentic self.

3 – Shame unravels our connection to others. The author refers to shame as the fear of disconnection. It is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of acceptance and belonging.

Shame keeps us from sharing our stories and prevents us from listening to others tell their stories. We silence our voices and keep our secrets out of the fear of disconnection. When we hear others talk about their shame, we often blame them as a way to protect ourselves from feeling uncomfortable. Hearing someone talk about shaming experiences can sometimes be as painful as actually experiencing it for ourselves.

4 – Shame resilience is composed of courage, empathy and compassion. Practicing compassion allows us to hear shame. Empathy, the most powerful tool of compassion, is an emotional skill that allows us to respond to others in a meaningful, caring way. Empathy is the ability to put our self in someone else’s shoes – to understand what someone is experiencing and reflect back their understanding. The opposite of experiencing shame is experiencing empathy. The prerequisite for empathy is compassion. We can only respond empathically if we are willing to hear someone’s pain. Compassion is possible for anyone who can accept the struggles that make us human – our fears, imperfections, losses and shame.

Application to Life Coaching:

I selected this book because the Title Caught my eye and resonated in my heart. “Making the Journey from "What People Think" to "I am Enough” has been my life’s journey. I have spent a great deal of my life blindly operating out of shame and making decisions on a gut feeling that I was incompetent and unworthy of others’ love. It is through educational experiences and stable relationships that I have changed the way I view myself. I identify with the shame resiliency and the life skills that have made this possible.

Brene Brown’s encouragement is that we are all capable of developing shame resilience. When it comes to shame resilience, empathy is at the center. “She defines empathy as the skill or ability to tap into our own experiences in order to connect with an experience someone else is relating to us”. Since the premise of this book is that shame is universal and we all experience it, as life coaches, we have the ability to perceive a situation from the other person’s perspective - to see, hear and feel the unique world of the other.

I use this quote from Thought It Was Just Me, “to connect Life Coaching with the author’s findings: “When we speak shame, we learn to speak our pain. We are wired for connection and this makes us wired for story. More than any other method, storytelling is how we communicate who we are, how we feel, what’s important to us and what we need from others.”

Life Coaching allows the client to tell their story and as the partnership relationship develops, it may be possible for the client to become comfortable in sharing their life story. As Life coaches, we are actively listening to our client’s life stories. By being present, establishing trust and intimacy, we may be able to hear the nuances of pain and shame and allow the client to explore the origins and contributors that have influenced their personal life development. Through the storytelling, the life coach is able to verbalize empathy through assisting the client in exploration and using the client’s words to convey understanding and connection.

Through establishing the Coaching Agreement, the client is able to bring forth concepts affecting their daily life and how values and experiences have contributed to their self-concept.

Favorite passage & what made it your favorite passage?

The book offers information, insight and specific strategies for understanding shame and building “shame resilience”. “As we learn more about shame resilience and start to put the elements into practice, we can start to move through the by-products of shame – fear, blame, and disconnection – and move toward courage, compassion and connection – we need to live our best, authentic lives.”

This passage not only provides recognizable symptoms of shame, it offers hope through the elements of shame resilience. Shame tends to project the lie that we are uniquely alone and undeserving on our own merit. What I like most is the idea that I do not have to continue to live in shame and by practicing the resilience strategies, I am able to shift my thinking which controls my behavior and I am able to look at myself in a very different way.

We have all been affect by society’s use of shame to control, manipulate and subjugate people as attention is usually given for what we do wrong rather than what we do right. It has often taken place surrounded by an audience and has brought embarrassment. We have learned to evade this kind of situation at all cost and so we seek to please rather than be honest. We try to become what others are comfortable with us being rather than our authentic selves.

This passage presents a concept of hope through resilience and shame can become authenticity. We are all seeking to be who we are and to contribute what is uniquely ours and we can move toward courage, compassion and connection!

How will you apply the key messages in this book within your coaching?

Life Coaching is a partnership relationship, where we, the coaches continually work with our clients to raise awareness of how they are responding to the world around them. We believe each person is resourceful and that they have the capacity to solve their own issues…Because of this belief, they are the sole decider of what to focus on each session. I, the coach, assist in uncovering effective methods for achieving goals without providing advice or telling the clients what they should do.” (Learning Journeys International Center of Coaching 2013)

I can see that the Discovery Session provides a unique opportunity to explore the client’s view of their values and beliefs. Through the tools used, I can dive below the surface with questions around the values to allow the client to contemplate whose values and beliefs there are hanging onto and how they are serving them in the present.

As I considered what was presented in this book, I found myself contemplating the importance of the ICF Core Competency Markers. The competencies provide the means of developing a safe, trusting environment in which the client can be free to explore with the coach all aspects of their life stories. It seems to me by what was presented and what I have experienced that shame may play an underlying role in many of the life stories that are presented in the coaching session.

The author stressed the concept of empathy and I believe that by establishing the coaching relationship by use of the core markers, I will be creating an atmosphere of trust and intimacy that will allow the client to be open and honest and share freely. By helping the client to define and confirm measures of success for what they want to accomplish in the session, allows them to feel as though they are an active partner. By exploring the importance and the meaning regarding the goal, I am able to present as an active partner in the session.

By applying the Core Marker of active listening, I can not only show empathy, I can focus on what the client is saying and not saying to support the client’s self-expression. By using the words the client uses and seeking understanding of the client’s feelings, I can recognize and inquire about emotions-triggers, and meaning. As I explore the client’s energy shifts, nonverbal cues and behaviors, I can ask about what meaning do they have for the client and who’s definitions are they embracing. Through this process, I may be able to ask the kind of powerful questions that allow the client to explore their own thoughts and feelings.

I also see how important the homework can be to transform the client’s perception of self in relationship to their world and how applying their learning can bring them into a sense of connection with themselves. Through the use of empathy, and connection in the coaching session, I can provide an atmosphere of trust and compassion to allow the client to have courage to embrace their life stories and gain insight into how they are in the world.

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