Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts

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  1. We all have it. Shame is universal and one of the most primitive human emotions that we experience. The only people who don’t experience shame are those who lack the capacity for empathy and human connection. Here’s your choice: ’Fess up to experiencing shame or admit that you’re a sociopath. Quick note: This is the only time that shame seems like a good option.

  2. We’re all afraid to talk about shame. Just the word is uncomfortable.

  3. The less we talk about shame, the more control it has over our lives.

First, shame is the fear of disconnection. As we talked about in the myths of vulnerability, we are physically, emotionally, cognitively, and spiritually hardwired for connection, love, and belonging. Connection, along with love and belonging, is why we are here, and it is what gives purpose and meaning to our lives. Shame is the fear of disconnection—it’s the fear that something we’ve done or failed to do, an ideal that we’ve not lived up to, or a goal that we’ve not accomplished makes us unworthy of connection. Here’s the definition of shame that emerged from my research:

Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love, belonging, and connection.

Shame drives two tapes:

Never good enough.

Who do you think you are?

These gremlinlike voices work as a terrible vise. Right when you overcome the “not good enough” whisper and muster up the courage to enter the arena, the shame gremlins hit you with “Wow. You think you have what it takes to pull this off? Good luck.” The Texas gremlins would say, “Don’t get too big for your britches, sister.”

Retreating into our smallness becomes the most seductive and easiest way to stay safe in the midst of the shame squeeze. But, as we’ve talked about, when we armor and contort ourselves into smallness, things break and we suffocate.

Here are some of the responses we received when we asked people for an example of shame:

  • Shame is getting laid off when we’re expecting our first child.

  • Shame is hiding my addiction.

  • Shame is raging at my kids.

  • Shame was my response to seeing my parents’ shame when I came out.

  • Shame is covering up a mistake at work and getting caught.

  • Shame is failing at my business after my friends invested in it.

  • Shame is getting a promotion, then getting demoted six months later because I wasn’t succeeding.

  • Shame is my boss calling me a loser in front of our colleagues.

  • Shame is not making partner.

  • Shame is my wife asking me for a divorce and telling me that she wants children, but not with me.

  • Shame is getting sexually harassed at work but being too afraid to say anything because he’s the guy everyone loves.

Book Details


293 Pages