• Damara

Practicing Critical Awareness around Body Shame.

Updated: Aug 29, 2019

Happy New Year! With all of the New Year's resolutions going around this is a great opportunity to begin practicing Critical Awareness- our second element in building shame resilience. This element builds upon the first- knowing our body shame triggers- by helping us to know exactly when to utilize the second. It is our helpful warning alert system.

Building Shame Resilience

1) Know your Body Shame Triggers

2) Practice your Critical Awareness skills

If you haven't already taken the first step in building shame resilience, download your Body Shame Triggers Inventory here.

The premise of Critical Awareness is simple. Yet the application is powerful. Critical Awareness gives us the full picture and and helps us to examine the facts. There are a lot of good resources available around this practice. Brené Brown covers this element in detail in her book I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn't). So here's just a brief overview.

The power of Critical Awareness lies in connecting our personal experience to the bigger picture and our shared humanity. Effectively killing the shame that'd have us believe we're unworthy of love and belonging. Fundamentally flawed and therefore unfit for relationship.

The practice of Critical Awareness does this by 1) contextualizing (seeing the bigger picture), 2) normalizing (knowing we're not the only one) and 3) demystifying (sharing what we know with others).

Contextualizing means to see the whole picture and how our story fits into it. Where did we get our expectations from? Who really benefits from me adhering to these expectations? The opposite of contextualizing is individualizing. Believing that I'm the only one that struggles with this.I think the most dangerous view is looking at shame strictly as a personal problem. When we do that, we seek only personal and highly individualized solutions, which leave the layers of competing and conflicting expectations that drive shame intact and unchanged.

- Brené Brown in I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn't)

Normalizing means to know that we are not alone. We are not abnormal. Knowing this kicks the legs out from underneath shame. The opposite of normalizing is pathologizing. If we don't see the bigger picture and know that we are not alone in it, we can easily believe that we are the only who fails to live up to these impossible standards. We can just as easily think the problem is us. Our deficit. Our inadequacy. Rather than a problem with the system.

Shame works only if we think we're alone in it. If we think there's someone else, a group of women, a city full of women, a country full of women, a world full of women, struggling with the same issue, the concept of shame becomes bankrupt.

- Brené Brown in I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn't)

Demystifying means to break it down and take the "mystery" out of it. A lot of the time people, groups, companies and industries will mask their products and knowledge in mystery. It has the psychological effect of conveying "superiority". "If you don't know what we're talking about then you're not cool/classy/sophisticated enough to be in the club". This clearly shaming attitude is extra hard on those of us who feel shame for not knowing something. Without critical awareness, this strategy is pretty effective at keeping us silent and feeling like we're the only one whose "not in the club". The opposite of demystifying is reinforcing. We have the choice. We can choose to break down the mystery and invite everybody into the knowledge we have or we can be selective about who we let in-the-know. Demystifying is one powerful way we can create a shared culture of vulnerability and inclusion. Once we start to see the big picture, we are better able to reality-check our shame triggers and the social-community expectations that fuel shame.

- Brené Brown in I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn't)

So how do we do this practically? Here are some tools we can use. The beautiful thing is that we can play with these tools, create our own tools, throw away tools and practice using our tools until our toolbox is primed and working for each of us in our unique life context.

Here are some examples of tools.

  • do your research. Google it. Get the facts about the industries and companies that drive these expectations. "What's the history of these social-community expectations? What research has been done on this topic?"

  • examining our expectations. "What am I expecting of myself here? How realistic are my expectations?"

  • why does this expectation exist? "How did this even become an expectation? Where did this idea come from?"

  • clarifying the goal of our expectation. "What is the ideal end goal of this expectation? What is the desired result? If I think of this in terms of "more is better", what is the "most and the best"?"

  • reality-checking. "If I look at this objectively, what do I see? What are the facts? If this was somebody else's situation, how would I describe it?"

  • employing logic. "Do these expectations conflict? Are they mutually exclusive? Is this logically impossible? How logical and/or probable is my foreseen chain of events?"

  • filtering our influences. "Who else expects this of me? How healthy are their expectations of themselves? What are they striving for? How happy are they living under the weight of this expectation? When they are proud of me, how do I feel about myself?"

  • playing out the whole story through to the end. "If I am perceived as I don't want to be, what will really happen? How will this end? What do I most fear happening in the end? How likely or probable is my greatest fear here?"

  • sharing God's perspective. "What does God say about this? Jesus, how do you see this situation? Jesus, how do you see me?"

  • self-checking our motivations and shame strategies. "What is my driving force right now? In my defensive shame strategy, am I moving away, moving towards, or moving against?"

  • outlining our boundaries. "Is there a boundary problem here? Where am I taking too much or too little responsibility for myself and the situation? Where am I feeling responsible for somebody else's life and feelings? Where do I feel pressure to reinforce these shaming expectations?"

  • referring back to our values. "Which, if any, of my values is being compromised here? If I were to live in accordance with my values, how do I want to show up right now?"

What tools do you have in your toolbox?

As you consider your tools, realize this process can be applied to any shame category and/or shame experience. Throughout this series, however, we are continuing to focus specifically on body shame. About 90% of Brené's research participants said they felt shame around their body and appearance. The most out of any other single shame category. You are very much not alone.

How much better would life be if you were free from even one unrealistic expectation?

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