Our shame stories can fuel conflict.
Those of you who’ve been following my blog for a while, know that I often share about the concept of story and its influence on conflict. In my understanding, most of conflict is internal. The biggest part of our conflicts are about us and our beliefs and attitudes. This includes the story we tell about what happened, about the situation, the other people and their motivations.
I just attended a webinar about shame offered by Mark Silver, who is a spiritual business coach and teacher. I was struck by how his wisdom about shame in business is applicable for conflict situations as well.
He said that shame is a story. Although it masquerades as strong emotion, it is a story that something is broken, that we are not enough, that we are wrong. This shame story protects us and hides us, from the strong emotions underneath of grief, anger, uncertainty, raw emotions. Telling ourselves a story of shame or blame, when habitual, can feel soothing and not as scary as those raw emotions. We can’t directly heal shame, but if we recognize the feelings underneath, we can work on those.
How can this approach to shame help with conflict? With curiosity and introspection, we can uncover what is really going on and aim for healing and understanding.
Here are some questions to ask yourself or a client:
What is the story you are telling about yourself and the other people? (Become conscious of the story).
Are you feeling shame as part of that story? What does the shame say about you and not feeling good enough?
What strong feelings (such as fear, grief, anger) are beneath the shame? (Knowing that shame isn’t actually a feeling.)
How can you acknowledge those feelings of fear, grief, anger or other strong emotions with compassion, not judgment?
Does this understanding shift your attitude about what has happened? What does it change? How can you move forward differently?
Working with clients around shame
When I work with clients on their stories and their emotions, I offer a lot of gentle support for the shame and the feelings underneath, knowing that all of this is very human. Guided by this understanding, I can help them release the “big” feelings safely without harm, and reframe the story about themselves and the other people, who are generally not monsters either. Then, people can communicate more clearly and calmly from a place of love.
As Mark Silver asks, “Is love available even here?” With willingness, persistence, courage, and clarity, the answer is always yes!
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