Shame strikes at the core of an individual’s self-worth. When individuals feel ashamed, they believe that they, themselves, are bad, rather than simply acknowledging that they have done something wrong, which is why shame can be a massive roadblock to healing for so many people.

shame, emotions, emotional, relationships

Shame is a powerful and complex emotion that affects individuals on both personal and interpersonal levels. Shame is an emotion deeply ingrained in human psychology. It emerges when one perceives themselves as fundamentally flawed or unworthy.

Shame’s Stranglehold On You & Your Relationships

Shame strikes at the core of an individual’s self-worth. When individuals feel ashamed, they believe that they, themselves, are bad, rather than simply acknowledging that they have done something wrong, which is why shame can be a massive roadblock to healing for so many people.

When someone feels deeply ashamed of their struggles, they may hide their pain, deny their emotions, or isolate themselves, all of which hinder the healing process. Shame not only hinders personal healing but also exerts a significant toll on interpersonal relationships. Healthy relationships rely on trust, vulnerability, and emotional intimacy, all of which are undermined by shame.

There is a destructive cycle to shame in relationships. When one partner feels ashamed, they may withdraw emotionally or become defensive. This response can lead to miscommunication, resentments, and further shame, perpetuating the cycle. As shame festers in the background, it corrodes the foundations of trust and intimacy.

You’ve heard me discuss many times in past episodes about how important vulnerability is in order to build trust & depth in relationships. Vulnerability is essential for establishing genuine connections with others. It involves sharing one’s thoughts, feelings, and fears without the fear of judgment or rejection. Shame, however, prevents those drowning in it from being vulnerable because they fear that exposing their true selves will result in rejection. This fear leads to emotional detachment and prevents the formation of deep and meaningful bonds.

The first step in overcoming shame is to recognize it as an obstacle within yourself. Self-awareness is always the very first step of change. You have to begin with exploring & understanding the root causes of your shame and how it impacts your life. When you identify specific triggers and patterns of shame, you can begin to work on healing and breaking the cycle.

Shame is such a tricky & important emotion that I’m so glad to have with me today experts on shame! My guests today to help us explore shame in greater detail are Sheila Rubin, LMFT, and Bret Lyon, PhD, are co-creators of the Healing Shame–Lyon/Rubin Method and founders of The Center for Healing Shame. Through their popular in-person and online trainings, they have taught hundreds of psychotherapists throughout the world how to more effectively identify and work with shame. They live together in Berkeley, CA. & have published their new book Embracing Shame:
How to Stop Resisting Shame and Turn It into a Powerful Ally.

Let’s begin with what how you define shame & why do we get so lost in judging ourselves so harshly?

Bret Lyon (00:11)
Wow. Well, we have several definitions of shame that we use because shame is a very tricky, mysterious, sneaky emotion. So we use several different definitions. And the first one comes from Brene Brown, and that’s that shame is the incredibly painful feeling or experience of believing you are flawed and therefore unworthy.

of love and belonging. And what I love about that definition, it’s very complete. It’s a three-part definition. It’s a feeling or experience. So it’s not just the inner critic. It’s happening in the body, in the emotions. But it’s a certain kind. It’s a feeling or experience of believing you are flawed. So it’s got a cognitive element. We can call it an embodied belief. It’s happening in the body at the same time.

Rhoda Sommer (01:03)
Yes, I like that.

Bret Lyon (01:09)
and which is why it’s so devastating. And then there’s a third part, and that’s what really clicks into shame. Because I am flawed, I am unworthy of love and belonging. So everything gets explained by shame. Anything that goes wrong is my fault. And because I’m flawed, I’m unworthy of love and belonging. Now chronologically that happens in reverse actually. As a child,

There’s a break in attunement. Something goes wrong between mother and child, between parent and child. It can be intentional. It can be completely unintentional. There’s just a break. And it creates an incredibly painful feeling or experience in the body. And at the same time, the only way to make sense out of it is something wrong with me. I’m not getting the love and the connection that I need because there’s something wrong with me. And so…

Shame is a social emotion. It relates, it starts very young and it relates to fitting in being part of a society. It’s also a very protective emotion because we really need other people. That’s who we are. We’re born of any group. We need other people the most and the longest of any mammal. And my favorite definition of shame is

Gershyn Kaufman, shame is the breaking of the interpersonal bridge. So the bridge between spouse and spouse, parent and child, sibling and sibling, parent, employee and employer. There’s this invisible bridge of connection and thinking that you have something together. You can look at this person and they’ll nod, yeah, I agree with you.

They’ll not be on their cell phone or something like that. But intentionally or unintentionally, when somebody breaks that bridge, one or both people go into shame. And being able to understand that is profound because that is often the missing piece.

Rhoda Sommer (03:28)
And it makes sense to me because when public humiliation, that is such a destruction of the bridge.

Bret Lyon (03:37)
Yeah, exactly. The bigger the break, the more shame there is. So public humiliation is very extreme and it relates to the ultimate in shaming. Shaming is really ultimately about exile from the tribe. That’s the ultimate shame. That’s in tribal societies, that’s how it was used. So you had to be part of the tribe or you wouldn’t survive. And being either exiled or shunned…

shun being where you’re allowed to stay, but everybody pretends you’re not there, that’s the ultimate in shame. So that’s the level of feeling that gets produced when there’s shame. And public shaming as an adult is very extreme. As a child, of course, was so much more needy and so much more sensitive that any break, certainly a break with a parent, is huge. It really hits a very deep note. And that kind of leads me to those.

A third definition we like, which is kind of my definition, although it’s taken from other sources, and that is that shame is a combination of a primary emotion, it’s one of the primary emotions, it’s with us from birth, and a state of freeze. Shame actually freezes the nervous system. Basically, so we won’t get into trouble, we won’t do anything dangerous and get ourselves into trouble. That’s the survival value of it. But it causes a lot of trouble.

Rhoda Sommer (05:07)
And there was a documentary by Eve Ensler who wrote the Vagina Monologues, and it’s called What I Want My Words to Do to You. And she talks about how prisoners are kept in the frozenness of their mistakes, paralyzed in the frozenness of their mistakes, and that shame, yeah.

Bret Lyon (05:28)
That is external shame. Yes, a prison is a shaming form. It’s an exile from the society and it’s a isolation and a lockup. So yeah, it’s, but if you think about it, that’s an externalization of what happens to us internally. We go into shame.

How is shame different from guilt?

Bret Lyon (06:00)
Oh, you want to take that one? Yeah, well, that’s an important one. It’s actually… This is really important. It’s actually quite different. Shame is a primary emotion. It’s with us basically from birth. We’re not born with shame. It’s not like we’re born in shame in the religious thing. But we are born with the capacity to feel shame. And as Gabor Maté says, you can instill shame in a nine-month-old baby before they’ve done anything wrong.

And that’s the emotional state of shame, which is not so cognitive at that age, but it is physiological, the state of beginning to freeze because there’s this break in attunement. Shame is about there’s something wrong with me, I’m bad. Guilt is really about, it’s a secondary emotion, it comes later, it involves more cognition, and it is, there’s something that I did that was bad.

I did something wrong. And so I can make amends, I can try to correct it, but I did something wrong, but it’s not me, it’s something I did. Where shame is, I’m wrong, there’s something wrong within me. So it’s much more primary. And the tricky part of this is that people use guilt all the time when they really mean shame.
so that they’re saying, well, yeah, I did this bad thing. But what they’re really thinking inside is there’s something wrong with me for doing it. What kind of a person would do something that terrible? So we really wanna, what we call externalize the shame and make it more about, more closer to what’s called guilt. We have a term that we use instead of guilt, which is healthy shame.
which is a combination of guilt and what’s called guilt and what’s called remorse, where you really see what you’ve done, externalize it. It’s not that I’m bad, it’s that I did something that I am not happy about. And so I need to in some way change my behavior, learn something new, grow in some substantial way. So that’s why we called our

the shame then becomes an ally. It’s no longer so dangerous. See, shame is one of those weird emotions, one of those weird things that’s much too powerful for what it’s meant to do. So it’s like snake venom or nitroglycerin that a little bit goes a long way. And so you’ve got nitroglycerin and it can blow things up, but a little bit of it is a heart medication.

They get them the same thing. It can kill you, but a little bit of it is a preventive. So here are these rattlesnakes walking around. They got this venom to kill rodents. That’s what it’s for, a little tiny rodent. But it can kill a human. It’s too much of a good thing, too much of a bad thing. Too much of a bad thing. So our job is, how do you get just a little bit of it? In other words, how do you get a…
what would be called a prophylactic dose, just a little bit of it so that you can learn from it. And whereas toxic shame is a state of freeze, healthy shame is a pause. It’s a chance to kind of take a moment, think about what just happened and change something. That’s what it’s really.

So our whole book is and our whole work, because we are the Center for Healing Shame and our whole work is about making this transformation. Helping people heal their shame, not by eliminating, you cannot eliminate shame, it’s a primary emotion, you can’t get rid of it, but make it useful. Change it, variable, soften it and make it useful.

Rhoda Sommer (09:59)
bearable and useful.

Sheila, did you want to add? Because I know you love to jump in. So.

Bret Lyon (10:07)
Wow. Yeah, just thanks. You know, it’s such an amazing topic and I think that there is an evolutionary purpose to shame that each person, if they can get to know their shame a little bit, just a little bit, make friends with that shame, it can help them through healthy shame set boundaries.

learn to know about themself better, learn to know kind of what happened in the past didn’t work and instead of the toxic shame running around, pulling them down, the healthy shame can be, wow, I realized what happened and I’m not gonna go out with that person again or I realized what happened and I’m not gonna.

You know, my clients that used to drink, you know, they would go, wow, I know if I walked down that street, I know the bars there. And I’m like, well, maybe you can walk down a different street. That is healthy shame. And so the evolutionary purpose of shame for me, I was such a shy child. And I healed that shyness levels and levels and levels of it by being kind to my inner critic, being kind to, you know,

the ways that shame was actually trying to help me that I didn’t really understand. And I counter the shame in myself and I teach that to my client to counter the shame with kindness, counter the shame with, you know, just kind of like counter shaming things so that the healthy shame can come out and we can thrive. If we’re…

If we’re stuck in shame, we lose imagination, we lose creativity, we lose a lot of intelligence points, and instead, to be able to come out of shame and have creativity, you know, writing books, doing whatever somebody wanted to do long ago, but they got stuck in shame, and it can be transformative.

Rhoda Sommer (12:15)
I really like the idea of balancing the weight of it. When I think of shame, it just seems so heavy. And so when I’m listening to you, I’m thinking about there is a purpose to it, and balancing, and making it a little bit lighter so it’s not squishing your soul to death.

Bret Lyon (12:34)
Yes, well said, very good graphic image, squishing your soul. Yeah, shame is the anti-life force. I mean, it really is. Yeah. Yeah, and again, a little tiny bit of it creating the pause, that helps us, you know, stop and think about what we’re doing. But if it’s full out, it’s a squisher, just like you said, and it’s going to stop your life from moving forward. It’s…

Rhoda Sommer (12:45)
Yeah, it is.


Bret Lyon (13:02)
It’s designed to do that for the purpose of, okay, maybe I’m moving in a direction that isn’t quite right, maybe I need to look at that. And this can go either way in terms of healthy shame. There’s both the taking responsibility, which means seeing your part of what’s going on, and there’s also a question of discernment, which is seeing what’s going on for the other person. We call it seeing the big picture. So one of the things we always do.

A lot of people come to us and they’re terribly ashamed of things that happened in their childhood. And so our first question is, where were your parents? A lot of times they were given responsibilities. We had one client who was, she was five, she was given responsibility for her two-year-old brother. The mother went out and did something. The brother peed on the couch. The mother came back and she was livid. And this poor woman who’s now a lot older.

is still carrying this. And of course it was the mother’s job to supervise the child, not the five-year-old’s job to supervise the two-year-old. So the mother didn’t have healthy shame, was not aware of what she did. Instead of that, she attacked the child. And that’s very often how shame works. It gets put on you by another person in your childhood. When they’re not dealing with their own shame, something they should be ashamed of, but instead they just put it on.

Rhoda Sommer (14:25)

Bret Lyon (14:31)
And this multi-generational transmission of shame, you know, it goes on and on, generation to generation to generation. And I feel like, you know, I really want to stop it right here. You know, I’m stopping it in my life. I’m stopping my inner critic. I’ve taught all these clients how to, you know, deal with their inner critic and to dance with their shame instead of having shame, you know, take over.

Rhoda Sommer (14:45)

Bret Lyon (15:00)
to be able to embrace shame. We wrote this book called Embracing Shame. It’s like, it is a very, very confusing thing when shame becomes the inner critic and can attack a person in many different ways. And so being able to be ready for all the side attacks of those dragging down.

freezing of the intellect and all of the somatic reactions to shame to be ready for that and to not take it personally to just be able to say, oh shame attack, you know, let me pause, let me reassess, let me see what just happened and then work on that moment and counter shame and get support.

Yeah, we see that shame is basically a useful emotion in proper proportion, but it’s the shame about shame that we’re trying to get rid of. And the whole society is basically ashamed of shame. Guilt is okay. I mean, you can feel guilty. You can even be proud of your guilt because it shows what a good person I am. I did this, but I’m really upset that I did it. I feel bad I did it. Therefore, I’m a good person. Shame is not treated that way.

That’s the other reason for the title of the book, is we wanted to shock people. We wanted something that would draw people’s attention. Who the heck wants to embrace shame? But we came up with that because we wanted to really get something very different from the level of dismissal and denial that we hold around shame.

Rhoda Sommer (16:42)
So I think of polarities in understanding emotions. What’s the opposite of shame to you?

Bret Lyon (16:49)
Oh, it’s joy and creativity and playfulness. I love that question. That’s the opposite of shame. And the way to get out of shame is to evoke curiosity. I have somebody at question. And if I can evoke their curiosity and we can get to a curious place instead of the shame, often they can step out of the shame for a little bit.

evoke their curiosity and then remember who they wanted to be if the shame hadn’t taken over their life. So since shame is so complex, we actually have three opposites that we use. One is, Sheila mentioned too, one is joy and pleasure and freedom and the other is curiosity, which is actually an antidote to shame and basically shame really lowers curiosity to the point where it hardly exists.

and yet curiosity is the cure. So getting curious about what’s going on starts opening things up. And then the third one is pride. And just as there’s, yeah. Yeah.

Rhoda Sommer (17:57)
I was thinking about pride. Could you say a little more about that? Yeah, I was, that’s what jumped into my head.

Bret Lyon (18:03)
Well, the first exercise we do, and I created this, and we do it basically every workshop, is a pride exercise, where you pair up with someone else and you tell them something you’re proud of. And it’s amazing how hard that exercise is for people. They kind of get used to it. If they’ve done enough workshops with us, they start coming in, oh, I feel pretty good about my pride exercise, I can do this now. But it takes a long time because society is so down, and religions can be so down on pride.

You know, pride goeth before a fall, and the sin of pride, and all this stuff. But actually, just like there’s a toxic shame and a healthy shame, there’s a toxic pride and there’s a healthy pride. The healthy pride is where, you know, I lived up to what I should be. I was completely myself and did what needed to be done in that situation.

Rhoda Sommer (18:56)
I was in a travel group in a foreign country, and it was a German woman, and I was trying to make conversation. And I said, tell me something you’re proud of. And she looked at me like I’d just given her a case of leprosy. And she said, I don’t talk to people like that. And I said, well, I didn’t mean you had to be the CEO of Exxon. I was just, you know, I made a mosaic wall in my garden, and I think it’s really cool. But you’re right.

Bret Lyon (19:11)

right. Well you have some healthy pride which is good but I find yeah the different groups I think in the clients I’ve worked with people from Germany tend to have about the hardest time with that question but it is it’s hard for people in general and people with a strong religious upbringing have a real hard time with that.

Rhoda Sommer (19:43)
Yeah. And it’s interesting because pride’s got this negativity to it. Shame’s got this negativity to it. And you’re bringing more of a positive energy to both these things.

Bret Lyon (19:50)

Yeah, exactly. Exactly. That’s our job is to bring the positive energy. Shame is ultimately a very negative energy if it’s not softened and understood. And I was going to say, yeah, Chinese students that I work with and Asian students and clients that I’ve worked with, they have huge shame that is put down in their family. And they say, we know where we stand with our families. We

Rhoda Sommer (20:08)

Bret Lyon (20:24)
Don’t go into pride. We have to have our shame and we have to be humble. That is what’s taught in their family. And so I’m working with them how to have a little bit of healthy shame to get out of the toxic shame. All cultures, because it’s so different, everybody’s culture is different and society is different. And so we’re dealing with all the different rules from all the different communities.

So people don’t know what is gonna be rewarded and what is gonna be put down. And so we have to kind of slow it down and figure out. And I always say, take a pause, take a breath, have some kindness and then ask those deeper questions. Well, interestingly, humility is part of healthy shame, but it’s humility for what you should be humble about. For instance, when I was a kid,

Rhoda Sommer (21:12)
So, go ahead. Go ahead.

Bret Lyon (21:25)
I wanted to fly, which I think a lot of kids do. And I used to have flying dreams and all, but I knew I couldn’t fly. And that was a healthy humility that kept me from jumping off a building and flapping my arms and screaming help all the way down. So it’s really important to have humility, but again, an appropriate amount. Humble about what you should be humble about.

That doesn’t mean you can’t do something extremely well, or you can’t feel good about something you’ve done.

Rhoda Sommer (22:00)
So, would you share with my audience about shame spirals, which we’ve all experienced?

Bret Lyon (22:09)
I love that question. One of my clients came in one day and said, well, I got called in, I got an email from my boss that said, I need to talk to you right away. So between the time I got the email, I realized several things. Maybe I’ve been late. Maybe I’ve been late too many times.

Navy, you know and she started spinning and spinning and spinning and by the time she got to the boss’s office She was convinced her shame and her humiliation was so convinced She was gonna get fired that by the time she opened the boss’s door and the boss said I’m so glad you’re here I have to go on this emergency trip and I need you to take over. Can you run the meeting? And so instead of her Saying of course, I’ll run the meeting

She was so filled with shame. She couldn’t even make eye contact with the boy. She’s like, yes, of course. But she was spiral around spiral around spiral, pulling her down into her toxic shame. And so I had to work with her in the session of undoing those spirals, finding none of that was actually true and helping her find her.

truth about that the boss was trusting her to lead the meeting while she was gone. So I had to find all of the pride in there. And we undid the shame spirals. You want to add more? Oh, that’s pretty complete. I think, you know, the concept of self fulfilling prophecy comes in here. You know, you’re so you feel let’s say you’re meeting a new person that you find attractive and you want to make a good impression.

and you’re just so nervous and you go to meet them and because you’re afraid of, oh, when we’re nervous, we have things that therapy calls social anxiety or performance anxiety, those are all related to shame. You know, what are we afraid of? We’re afraid of being humiliated. We’re afraid of being rejected. We’re afraid of being laughed at. So you have this shame for your buying going on. You go to meet the person, you stammer and you stutter.

You can’t say anything or you kind of brazen it out and get nasty, which some people do. And then you’ve broken the contact. Then you go off by yourself and you say, oh my God, what did I just do? So you’re now self-fulfilling the prophecy and then in the spiral.

Rhoda Sommer (24:49)
Yeah, absolutely. I think that’s something we’ve all experienced too. So you have talked about what you discuss in your book about shame, the action tendency of shame is to freeze, hide, and disappear. Is there anything else you wanna say about how shame binds us to interrupt joy and pleasure and be a spoil sport?

Bret Lyon (25:13)
Wow, you know, I would start that one with just like years ago when I was writing my graduate thesis and it was years and years ago and I just, I couldn’t write and I just noticed that my brain almost went into a freeze and then my inner critic started attacking me and telling me what did I mean going to graduate school, what I mean writing this thing and inner critic was attacking me, my brain froze and I had to find ways out of that.

But I found out a couple years later that is the somatic symptom of shame is to freeze the brain. We lose intelligence, but we can’t think. We can’t talk. We can’t write. And so that starts the shame in the body. And then there’s shame around the shame. So the inner critic starts off. And so when I figured out… Oh!

That was shame and I’m able to teach that to my clients so that when they when they’re like, oh is your brain freezing? Having hard to talk with your partner it might be shame, you know, and I have a little you know laugh about it But I do psycho education because for a person to actually understand There was a CEO that worked with me years ago and he’s like I go into the board meeting. I have my notes I’m gonna do the notes or the PowerPoint and I look at them

and I can’t speak. And he’s like, what do you think is happening? And I said, well, let’s figure it out together. And then when he got in, I said, I think it’s shame. And so we worked on the shame that was freezing his brain. We helped open his creativity, and then he was able to do much better at those poor things. Well, we actually combine two different theories. One is, and it’s the same thing, but in different ways of expressing it. And one is the idea of the freezing.

which is neurological. And the other is that shame binds with everything. Shame is a binding emotion that the original person who did a lot of work on shame was Sylvan Tompkins and that was his basic theory of shame is binding. And shame binds with all kinds of energy, it binds with your brain and stops it from functioning. It also binds as you were expressing with pleasure or joy and keeps it from really

happening so you can’t really feel it. And it also binds with every other emotion. It binds with fear, it binds with anger, it binds with grief, and in every case it kind of pulls it down and makes it unavailable. So when we work, we work a lot with shame binds. That’s one of the concepts that’s really important in the book. It’s actually the second chapter in the book is about how shame binds with basically everything.

And so we work to unbind it, which is tricky. Because when an emotion, okay, the action tendency of shame, as you said, is to hide and disappear. The action tendency of every emotion has an action tendency. It has something it’s supposed to do. So the emotion of fear, you’re supposed to run away. Anger, you fight. Grief, you mourn and grieve and cry. And shame, when shame comes in, it stops.

these action tendencies from completing. It stops the pleasure senses in the body from completing. All the endorphins don’t get going. All the stuff that’s supposed to happen doesn’t happen. So our job becomes to separate out shame from the emotion that it’s bound with and really kind of begin to get a sense of there’s this on one hand and there’s this on the other hand and they’re not all merged together, which is what happens.

Rhoda Sommer (29:05)
Let’s talk more specifically about anger, shame, that bind. What could you tell me about that?

Bret Lyon (29:13)
Yeah, interesting, because we’re doing a seminar on Monday about anger and shame binding. So it’s a good time to talk about it. Yeah, anger, we believe that shame is really basically designed to bind with anger. That’s the main purpose of shame, to keep us out of trouble. And because if we got angry at our parents when they did something wrong, we could be either killed or abandoned, which is really the same thing.

So shame is very powerful in binding with anger and lowering the level of anger to the point where people don’t feel it. And so if you find yourself either thinking back to something, gee, I should have been angry about this, but I wasn’t, or you still got all this rage and anger about something that happened 20 years ago, in both cases, you’ve got an anger shame bind. The shame is not letting the anger.

complete. Anger like every emotion. What’s that? It’s a stop sign. Anger is a stop sign. Yeah. I’m sorry. Shame is a stop sign. It says no, you know, nothing’s going to finish. Yeah. You got it. It’s a stop sign. And then the irony is that people then can get what we call have an attack other reaction to shame, which is they get very angry, but it’s not really what they’re angry about.

Rhoda Sommer (30:12)
It’s a stop sign.

Yeah, shame is a stop sign to anger. Yes, right.

Bret Lyon (30:39)
What they’re angry about is something that happened, let’s say, in childhood, but they’re gonna take it out on anybody who triggers it. So we talk about shame triggers. So the anger is still bound with the shame, so it can’t complete. But now it’s too painful to feel all the shame. Shame is the most painful of emotions. So now it comes out in attacking other. We’re seeing a lot of that politically in this country today. There’s just an incredible amount of attack other going on where there’s…

Rhoda Sommer (31:07)
and viciousness.

Bret Lyon (31:09)
Yeah, the viciousness and all, it’s the anger is bound with the old anger from childhood is bound with shame. And so it’s not finishing. And it’s right there. And then somebody triggers that anger and people feel disrespected or left out or all those things that are shaming. And then they get really angry about it. But they’re not angry at the person or the situation in which it first occurred. They’re angry right now at something that’s way out of proportion.

Rhoda Sommer (31:27)

Bret Lyon (31:39)
We call it the 90-10 split. That if you’re really angry about something, there’s a good chance that 90% of that anger is coming from the past and only 10% relates to the present.

Rhoda Sommer (31:53)
Is there anything you want to add to curiosity being an antidote to shame? And is there anything else besides curiosity that’s an antidote to shame?

Bret Lyon (32:05)
I love your questions because your questions open up my heart and I want to just answer your questions. Curiosity and kindness and loving kindness are the opposite of shame. Interest curiosity is a real opposite of shame. And so by saying to my clients and my students…

I’m really interested that you, you know, you wore those, you know, those shoes with that scarf or that this or that that. I’m curious about them. And I asked them about that and they haven’t even thought about it. So they get curious too. It’s the opposite of shame because shame, it’s an opening, right? It’s an opening of the heart.

Rhoda Sommer (32:54)
You’re exploring an opening?

Bret Lyon (33:00)
And it’s an opening of the nervous system. And shame is like the person is looking down physiologically, the physiological reaction to shame is they’re looking down. They’re in here, the inner critic is attacking them, and they’re in here, they’re not looking out there. And so being able to see them and get them to look out there, even for a little bit, and notice something, and be curious together.

Those are some of the ways to counter the shame with curiosity. Yeah, we support the life force. Yeah. Our job is to really encourage from the mind, encourage the life force part, encourage the positive part. So if you can really experience joy and pleasure, that’s the opposite of shame.

Rhoda Sommer (33:34)

Bret Lyon (33:55)
it gets mound, but you’re encouraged. So we’re encouraging, you were talking about balance before, we’re encouraging that part of the person, the person that, the part that does feel the joy, that does have the curiosity, that is moving in a life forward direction. That’s our job. So we’re trying to untangle the shame and then really encourage the emotions that are tangled with the shame.

Rhoda Sommer (34:23)
I love this quote in your book, when we feel shame, we don’t feel like relating. We either pull in to protect ourselves or push others away. And could you share a little more about how profoundly shame affects relationships? We’ve talked about some of it, but is there anything else you’d like to add?

Bret Lyon (34:41)
Yeah, well, I think that’s the key, you know, that in our couple, you know, like if I get put down and I feel like I’m being shamed, you know, by him, and he didn’t mean it, of course, but you know, something happens. If I pull away, I look down or I’m on my cell phone or something like that.

then I’m in my shame and I’m trying to figure out, okay, how could I fix it? What could I do? What’s wrong with me? And I go into my attack cell. Meanwhile, you want to share what’s happening for you? Yeah, I mean, this is really interesting because I know your broadcast is called Couples. Couples, right? But healthy couples, no. So whatever we know, we’ve learned the hard way. I mean, I like to joke that I didn’t know anything about shame until I married Sheila.

Rhoda Sommer (35:23)
What healthy couples know. Yeah.

Bret Lyon (35:34)
But I really didn’t because I didn’t know I was feeling shame. I was basically getting angry. My reaction to shame, I understand now, is attack other. And that’s a very that’s the way men are generally socialized. Men are heavily socialized to attack other women and heavily socialized to attack themselves. And that’s what happens with us. And so Sheila will pull away. And that is the trigger for me, particularly since I had a lot of abandonment as a kid.

shame, emotions, emotional, relationships

My parents were very busy elsewhere. And so I will then get angry and I will be nasty and she will pull away further and then I’ll get even angrier. And so that’s the way it was. And at this point, I had a lot of learning to do. We both did, but I particularly had a lot of… First of all, I had to know what shame was. That was a huge discovery for me. To even find out, oh, this is shame.

I actually had a therapist at one point who used to say, you know, I don’t get angry very much. I only get angry at my significant other. And it’s very sudden. And he said, well, isn’t there something that happens before you get angry? I said, no, I just get angry. And that was the end of it. And then when I realized, no, there is something that happens before, I feel dropped. I feel abandoned. I feel shamed. And so I react to the shaming, what I perceive as shaming by a…

getting nasty and being rude or being critical. I tend to get critical, judgmental, I guess you call it. And so I’ve really had to work on that. And we still have our stuff, no question about it. You know, I would say what healthy couples know is that you’re going to have problems, you know, and not to make that the end of the world. You know, I think that the thing that’s really different now is that we recover so much faster. We repair. We repair.

Rhoda Sommer (37:22)
That’s right.

That’s right. That’s right. It’s the history of being able to do some problem solving together and not just do that reactive emotional get stuck, interrupting that pattern. And shame has got to be a part of not being able to solve problems for sure.

Bret Lyon (37:30)
We’ve relationship rupture repair. Yeah.

Shame is, from our point of view, the key to not solving the problem. Because one of the, both, we the one, or usually both people, because of the nature of a couple’s dynamic. I mean, when I get, even not even irritable, just when my voice gets loud, or when I get into my business mode, which is, hey, let’s get this thing done. You know, I’m not great with compliments and being effusive and all, what I call mush, right?

Rhoda Sommer (37:53)

Ha ha ha.

Bret Lyon (38:16)
And Sheila can react to it, you know, as if I’m putting her down. Yeah. So she then pulls away. Now, when she pulls away, I didn’t feel abandoned, which is my source of shame. And so I start pursuing her, you know, reaching out to her, but I do it in a blamey way. So that pulls her away further. So somebody’s got to break that cycle. Somebody, you know, somebody’s got to break it. And basically for me, I’m what we call the pursuer.

So I’ve got to back off, I’ve got to move away, and Sheila’s got to have room to come forward, because then we’re back together again. And so we really work on the repair part of the package. There’s definitely relationship rupture, and that when there’s rupture in a relationship, there’s shame. That’s the nature of shame. It is the break of the interpersonal bridge. And it is a fair shame bind that happens when there’s the rupture.

Rhoda Sommer (38:55)


Bret Lyon (39:15)
between us and often it’s the shame that would keep me from not blaming myself or you know turn toward him. We’ve gotten so much better but it has taken years and years and years to work on this dynamic and to have him invite me back in a kind voice or to have me say you know yeah we’re gonna take a time out you know we can talk about this at two o’clock or

We could talk about this on Tuesday or whatever, you know, for him to know that there is a time that we’re going to talk about this again. And I need to know that he’s going to have a kind voice in his invitation or I might get triggered again. And we laugh about it now because it’s so funny, but it was painful for a long time. We teach this in our workshops, in our trainings with therapists. We teach about this.

interpersonal bridge getting broken through the couple. And it’s like, I learned more about working with Shannon the couple since I’ve been with Brett. And she also has now more men in her practice than women. Once she had to learn how to deal with me, you know. It’s really amazing. We are like from different planets sometimes because of the socialization basically. We’re just socialized so differently.

Rhoda Sommer (40:23)
I think that’s true for most of us. Yeah. Do you have any advice to offer folks who struggle secretly with body shame?

Bret Lyon (40:41)

I’m going to put my hand on my heart and I’m going to breathe in and breathe out and just like what I would say to them is just take a deep breath.

Breathe in hope and love, breathe out shame. Shoo. Breathe in more hope.

and love, breathe out the shame. Do that as many times a day as you can. And then if you can, rubbing the hands together and putting one hand on the heart, one hand on the belly, loving that belly with a hand once again, breathing in love, breathing out shame, breathing in kindness, breathing out shame. And I have

people if they can do it twice, they win the prize. If they can do it 10 times, they win the A++. If they can do it 20 times, they get the A++++. It is really hard to do with body shame and the way through. Yeah, anytime a woman looks at a magazine, or you know, women would look at a magazine that might.

Rhoda Sommer (41:54)
It is. And the culture is not helpful.

Bret Lyon (42:04)
clients would have their offices and they would they would spend two minutes sitting, you know with a cover of a magazine and they would get triggered and I would have to detrigger them and say That’s an airbrush picture. It’s not real You know, you’re real women have curves, you know, and I would just kind of say

you know, realistic things, kind things, and I would teach them how to be kind to them about their body, and I would say everybody is different. And the reason everybody is different is because we’re all special. We all have curves and bumps and elbows of different things in different places. And to be able to have joy.

about even one place of the body and I’ll do that with the fingers and I’ll say can you like have like place your fingers together and say maybe I could love my fingers just breathing in and breathing out maybe I could just breathe in and breathe out and love my fingers and let it go one time or 10 times and feel the power of you know that push and feel the power

Rhoda Sommer (43:21)

Bret Lyon (43:21)
Yeah, I want to say that Sheila does specialize in actually specialize in shaming the body. We have, she has a workshop, we have a chapter in the book on it as well. And one thing I like to help people with cognitively is to realize how much the way the body is supposed to look is completely determined by social conventions. And in fact, all you have to do is look at the history, look at movies and look at the history of what is considered attractive in women.

Rhoda Sommer (43:46)

Bret Lyon (43:50)
or men for that matter, but mostly let’s say women, in the past versus what happened. I mean, it’s gotten thinner and thinner and thinner. I still remember I was younger when I remember this model Twiggy came along and all of a sudden it became no weight whatsoever. I mean, that was an interesting model, but basically it’s so socially determined.

Rhoda Sommer (44:06)
Oh yeah.

Bret Lyon (44:16)
It’s important to hold that. It’s not enough, obviously, but it’s important to hold that, at least that piece of cognition. We believe in you need to hold both the kind of feeling level and the cognitive level. But Chile does a lot of work with body sharing. Yeah.

Rhoda Sommer (44:28)
I agree.

Anything either of you would like to add to this deep dive into shame that we haven’t covered, my final question.

Bret Lyon (44:40)
Well, I want to mention our book called Embracing Shame. Probably I mentioned it, but we had that. And we also have our six CD set series also put out by Sounds True. We’re so honored to be here on the podcast with you. And so I just want to say that I’m thanking you, you know, from my heart and from my belly, it’s like it feels really full.

conversation and just like I hope people will get our book and the book is life changing. Any of our workshops are life-changing to be able to dip in and dip out without going into shame. Yeah we mostly work with therapists and coaches and helping professionals but we’re opening that up because our book is our audio series and now our book are our attempts to reach out to the general public so we are gonna be opening that up.

and that’s really important. And there was something else I wanted to say and I can’t remember what it was. Okay. Thank you so much. We can give our website. Yeah. You know, website is and it’s amazing how little was done on shame that we could get that website. Oh, and I did want to say that our book right now is number one in new releases on Amazon for popular psychology.

Rhoda Sommer (46:06)
Oh great, I’m so glad for you guys. I really believe it’s such an important topic and I’m so grateful that you joined me today. I hope you all enjoyed today’s episode. All the show notes and links can be found over at My children’s book, Dancing With Your Lizard Brain is for sale on Amazon. Thanks for listening and putting the podcast in the top 1% globally.

Bret Lyon (46:06)
So that’s really, really nice. Yeah.


0 0 votes
Article Rating


About the Rhoda Mills Sommer

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments



Download your FREE checklist


Would love your thoughts, please comment.x