If we speak shame, it begins to wither. ~ Brené Brown

“If we speak shame, it begins to wither.” (Brené Brown)


Shame derives its power from being unspeakable…. If we cultivate enough awareness about shame to name it and speak to it, we’ve cut it off at the knees. Shame hates having words wrapped around it. If we speak shame, it begins to wither.” (Brené Brown) 

Over the summer, I read Brené Brown’s fabulous book Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead (which follows her famous TED Talk on vulnerability). Brown’s book encourages us to dare to be honest about who we are rather than trying to hide our weaknesses and teaches that vulnerability helps us to live more wholeheartedly, connect more with others, and overcome the destructive burden of shame.

This book got me thinking about the concept of shame.

I have been part of the Christian church all my life, so I am used to hearing the word shame. We believe it is something destructive that we can overcome and that the grace provided by Jesus’ death and resurrection can free us from its grasp.

This book caused me to reflect further on shame – what it is and what it means. I was inspired to consider these questions:

  • Where does shame have a hold on my life?
  • How does shame affect my thoughts and actions?
  • How might shame be damaging my well-being and relationships?

“Shame is a soul-eating emotion.” (C.G. Jung)

What Is Shame?

Words we connect or use interchangeably with shame are embarrassed or humiliated, but shame often manifests as feelings of inadequacy, guilt, or regret and is something we try to hide and cover up. We might self-medicate to avoid thinking about shame. We dread people seeing our shame.

Although shame is often seen as the same as guilt, I have come to see a distinctive difference. Guilt is the feeling of embarrassment or regret about something you have done wrong. Shame, on the other hand, can be felt even when we have not done anything wrong. Shame is connected more to who we are and how others perceive us.

(Shame is) a painful feeling about how we appear to others (and to ourselves) and doesn’t necessarily depend on our having done anything. (Joseph Burgo)


Shame Had a Hold on Me

The more I thought about shame and how it manifests in my life, the more I became aware that it is intrinsically linked to the struggles I face at the moment. I began to see how shame had a hold on me and particularly how it affected me over the past year or so. Ultimately, I began to see and recognize I feel ashamed that I am battling a chronic illness.

There we go. I have said it. It’s out in the open.

I feel ashamed that I am ill.

I feel ashamed that it has gone on so long.

Yes, I feel ashamed that I can’t seem to get well.

I feel ashamed that I cannot work and be busy like I used to.

I feel ashamed to be sick!

When I decided to speak up and write about feeling ashamed for being ill, I decided to Google the words: the shame of chronic illness. Through that search, I found two insightful blog posts by Angelika Byczkowski, sharing some of her battles with the chronic connective tissue disorder Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS). She writes so beautifully about the humbling journey with chronic illness and pain:

When I recently read the phrase “I’m embarrassed to be sick,” it made my stomach clench and my breath catch. That’s exactly what I’ve been feeling…I am ashamed of being sick… If all the people not yet affected by chronic illness acknowledged all the undeserved pain in this world, they would be forced to confront their own vulnerability to the same forces. Instead, we all prefer to believe we have the power to prevent such disasters in our own lives. Sometimes I even think, “If you’re so smart, why did you let this happen?”

Those words were so revealing to my own heart. I began to see that I felt like a failure for being sick. If I was only a bit stronger or wiser, if only I made better choices, if only I was a bit more positive, if only I had more faith, then surely I could have overcome this sooner.

Such thoughts taunt me and drag me into a dark and negative pattern, which was particularly bad at Christmas when I blamed myself and felt responsible for still being ill. It’s so humiliating to be so unwell and in long-term pain.

Before I got ill, I carried the arrogance of good health, believing I was strong enough to shake off illness when others couldn’t because that was all I knew. I was not the type who would succumb to illness’ chains. I was always so healthy that I surely could overcome anything thrown at me, right? Surely my faith and positive mindset would win.

Then one day in January 2015, I fell off a step ladder and entered the world of invisible chronic illness and pain. I acquired a debilitating spinal CSF leak and a brain injury I haven’t yet overcome. I have been unwell for 20 months. Every day, I battle through chronic pain, physical and mental fatigue, a foggy brain, barriers to treatment, and the challenges of not being unable to heal, get well, or get free.

And honestly, I feel ashamed on so many levels.

  • I feel ashamed that I have become one of those people with chronic pain and illness. (I hate using the word chronic at all, which reveals the stereotypes I accepted before.)
  • I feel ashamed to tell you that I feel weaker than I ever imagined possible, physically, mentally, and spiritually.
  • I feel ashamed that my old positivity has taken a massive hit – most days, I battle overwhelming feelings of despair at the thought of not getting better.
  • I feel ashamed that I broke down mentally at Christmas. Exhausted, with nothing left for the fight, I seriously considered ending my life.
  • I feel ashamed that the same “selfish” thought has returned at times since then, although thankfully not to the same depth.

In my view, suicide is not a wish for life to end. What is it, then? It is the only way a powerless person can find to make everybody else look away from his shame. The wish is not to die but to hide. (Orson Scott Card)

  • I feel ashamed every time I have to update people on how I am, that I am still not well, that it’s gotten worse, and that it is not yet over.
  • I feel ashamed when I can’t tell you I have finished the fight, overcome, won, and beaten this dreadful condition.
  • Yes, I feel ashamed that I cannot yet testify that I am fully healed and whole, even though I believe in a loving creator God and Father, who can do the impossible.
“O my God, I trust in You; Let me not be ashamed.” (Psalm 25:2
  • I feel ashamed telling doctors that I can’t seem to get better and that I hope they will see past the chronic pain patient with the unusual condition and know that it’s not ‘all in my head’ so I can continue to get treatment.
  • I feel ashamed when the scans are clear and don’t show any evidence of a CSF leak, when the treatment I receive doesn’t fix me, or when my symptoms don’t always fit with the diagnosis.

Each day this drags on, the shame gets worse. Each day the shame is becoming almost as much of a burden as the illness itself. Each day the shame is debilitating and makes me feel small. Each day the shame is robbing me of my voice and tempting me to retreat from the world – and it has to stop! I HAVE TO BREAK FREE FROM SHAME!

So today, I am making the unspeakable speakable for myself and the multitudes who travel this dark road of chronic illness and pain. I am speaking out my shame so it can no longer chain me up with lies. I am choosing to acknowledge the space it has taken up in my thoughts so that we can tear down its strongholds together.

Today, I chose vulnerability to speak the unspoken so you and I won’t suffer in silence.

Today, I choose to fight shame so that even though this condition taunts me daily, trying to persuade me I can never be free, it doesn’t have to define everything I am, everything I do, or the relationships with those around me.



So today, whether you are battling chronic illness and pain or know someone who is, I pray that together we can tear down the chronic pain stereotypes, those that perhaps we also once secretly adhered to, and no longer allow shame to rule our and others’ lives.

“If we cultivate enough awareness about shame to name it and speak to it, we’ve basically cut it off at the knees. Shame hates having words wrapped around it. If we speak shame, it begins to wither.” (Brené Brown)

First published at beckyhillblog.com. *Adapted and published with permission.

Yellow Bubbles
Becky Hill

Becky Hill

Chronic Joy® Contributing Writer

Becky lives in Leicestershire, UK, and is a wife to Matt, mum to two girls, and a pursuer of Christ. Becky and Matt love the local church and have been involved in pastoral ministry for many years. In January 2015, Becky fell from a step ladder, causing a debilitating cerebrospinal fluid leak and chronic arachnoiditis, which means over the years, she has had to spend much of her time in bed. She also lives with severe daily neurological pain. Becky loves words and writes to connect, encourage, share her journey, and inspire others facing suffering, chronic illness, and pain.

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