Recognizing Shame in Mediation

Have you ever read a book that really makes you think? Right now I’m reading the book, “The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are” by Brene Brown and it’s making me think a lot.

In mediations, and in conflict in general, we deal a lot with shame and guilt, and before we go any further, we need to realize that they are two different things. So what’s the difference? Brene Brown describes it as understanding the differences between “I am bad” and I did something bad.” When we feel shame we aren’t separating the problem from ourselves, and we will think of ourselves as bad, however when we experience guilt we look at it from the perspective of “I did something bad.”

My feelings are that guilt is fairly easy to deal with. The person is already feeling guilty and some remorse, so all we have to do is open an avenue for them to express this guilt and reconciliation can begin. Guilt can keep the problem as the center of attention and allow both people to work towards resolution. Guilt opens the doors for apologies and an explanation of intent. Shame, however, can pose a different problem. It puts the person at the center and under a microscope. It leaves them in a power imbalance, extremely vulnerable and at the mercy of the other person.

“According to Dr. Hartling, in order to deal with shame, some of us move away by withdrawing, hiding, silencing ourselves, and keeping secrets. Some of us move toward by seeking to appease and please. And, some of us move against by trying to gain power over others, by being aggressive, and by using shame to fight shame (like sending really mean emails).” – Brene Brown The Gifts of Imperfection

Vulnerability is the key to connection

Engaging with one another in vulnerability allows us to have a conversation at a needs-based level as opposed to us shooting at each other from our positional mountains.

How can we learn and listen to shame? Here’s what Brene Brown has to say in her newest Ted Talk

Or watch it here.

“Vulnerability is our most accurate measurement of courage.” What do you think?


Jason Dykstra

Jason is a Conflict Management Specialist who is helping organizations and congregations move from conflict situations to creative solutions. He specializes in relational and communication issues and uses his experience and training in mediation, group facilitation, conflict management coaching, speaking and teaching to aid you and your surroundings to better… MORE >

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