Shame and Guilt

I have staffed over 40 Mankind Project New Warrior Training Adventure weekends and helped initiate over 1,000 men into mature manhood. The theme that I see over and over is some variation on, “I am not good enough, not worthy, not lovable”. I kept asking myself, what is this all about? Where does this toxic belief come from?

Several years ago, I discovered Brene Brown’s, “Listening to Shame” which has now been viewed on over 7,000,000 times. There’s a clue here.

Paraphrasing Brene Brown, the messages I kept hearing are shaming messages. They echo a core belief that says “I am a mistake”. Shame is highly correlated with addiction, depression, violence, aggression, bullying, suicide, eating disorders. The only people who have no shame are those who have no capacity for empathy. Shame is toxic.

Shame focuses on self. Guilt focuses on behavior.

Guilt says, “I made a mistake”. Guilt is a healthy emotion. Owning that I have made a mistake removes the burden from my shoulders. Owning my guilt is taking responsibility for growing up.

Shame needs three things to grow: secrecy, silence and judgment. Empathy is the antidote to shame. Metaphorically, shame needs darkness to grow. Shining a light on shame by becoming vulnerable, open and transparent creates room for compassion and empathy, the antidotes to shame.

According to Brene Brown, men and women process shame differently. For women and men, shame is do it all, do it perfectly and never let them see you sweat. Web of unattainable expectations. For men, it is simple: do not be perceived as weak.

Brene said, “Show me a woman who can actually sit with a man in real vulnerability and fear and I will show you a woman who has done incredible work. Show me a man who can sit with a woman who has just had it and can’t do it any more and can really listen and I will show you a man who has done lots of work”.

To do to conform to female norms, women need to be nice, be thin, be modest and take advantages of all resources for appearance. Men, on the other hand, need:

  • to always show emotional control
  • to work first
  • to pursue status
  • violence

Healthy connection cannot co-exist with shame. Conversely, acknowledging guilt is mandatory for healthy connection.

How to Deal With Shame

One MKP Leader I know was fond of teaching men to say, “Fuck shame!” His premise was that shame serves no purpose and we should simply stand up to it, that shame is like swallowing battery acid – it eats you from the inside out. When I talked with this leader, he pointed out that his approach was what I interpret as a remedial treatment. It’s simply a first step in fighting toxic shame. But what are the next steps?

Are you carrying a toxic shame belief that you want to release? Start by bringing that into the light. Share your belief about yourself with someone you trust. You may be surprised to learn that he or she carries the same belief. You may learn that you are not alone. This is the real first step to healing.



We will look at shame in my ConneXions Workshop. Check it out.

Bob Jones

I live in two worlds: my head and my heart. My head world involves computer programming while my heart world lives in connecting deeply with people all over the world and in teaching people to connect more deeply and authentically.

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