Empowering Advocates: Building Resilience to Shame

Maegan Bradshaw, September 14, 2023

Advocacy requires passion, commitment, empathy, long hours, and a lot of selflessness. We know this is not always possible (as we teach here at RAFT, HELLO boundaries!), and as humans, we tend to be our worst critics. Shame is a powerful and complex emotion that can hinder personal growth, erode self-esteem, and impede one's ability to advocate effectively for social change. Advocates who passionately fight for justice and equality often find themselves exposed to various forms of criticism, backlash, and negativity. Developing resilience to Shame is essential for maintaining one's well-being and sustaining the momentum needed to bring about meaningful societal transformations. So, let's explore the concept of Shame, its impact on advocates, and practical strategies for building resilience to Shame.

Graphic with blue background and squiggles. Illustration of a person seated, holding their knees. There is a large device next to them with fingers pointing towards them.

Understanding Shame

RAFT defines Shame as an intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and, therefore, unworthy of acceptance, love, and belonging. Shame is the fear of disconnection. Guilt is typically closely associated with Shame. Dr. Brene Brown (shame researcher) explains the difference: "Guilt says 'I have done something bad. Shame says 'I am bad;'" Guilt says "I made a mistake" while Shame says "I am a mistake.'"

Shame is more than just feeling guilty about a specific action; it's an intense belief that something is fundamentally wrong with oneself. It can stem from external sources, such as societal expectations, discrimination, or criticism. Advocates who challenge prevailing norms and systems can often become targets of shame-triggering events due to the discomfort their actions or ideas may evoke in others. Such experiences can lead to self-doubt, burnout, and a diminished commitment to their causes.

Impact of Shame on Advocates

As advocates, you are on the frontlines of change, tirelessly working to address social injustices and create a more equitable world. However, your efforts are frequently met with resistance, hostility, or apathy. When advocates face shame-inducing experiences, their ability to stay focused, motivated, and effective can be compromised. Persistent Shame might lead to imposter syndrome, where advocates doubt their skills and believe they don't deserve their success. This internal struggle can hinder the progress they strive to achieve.

Building Resilience to Shame

Developing resilience to Shame is crucial for advocates to continue their vital work without being deterred by negative emotions. Here are some strategies to consider:

1.   Normalize the Experience: Recognize that Shame is a universal emotion, and experiencing it does not diminish your worth as an advocate. Everyone faces setbacks, criticism, and challenges along their journey.

2.   Cultivate Self-Compassion: Treat yourself with the same kindness and understanding that you would offer to a friend. Remember that mistakes and failures are opportunities for growth, not reasons for Shame (Fail, Learn, Grow is a motto we live by at RAFT).

3.   Build Your Trusted Network: Build a network of fellow advocates, friends, and mentors who can provide encouragement and understanding. Sharing experiences and vulnerabilities can lessen the weight of Shame.

4.   Reframe Negative Thoughts: Challenge negative self-talk by reframing your thoughts. Focus on the progress you've made, the impact you've had, and the positive feedback you've received.

5.   Learn to Identify Shame in your Body: Being mindful of our bodies can help us identify our shame triggers. Ask yourself questions like, "I physically feel shame in my ____" or "I know I'm ashamed when I feel _______."

6.   Focus on Values: Reconnect with the core values driving your advocacy work. Remember that your commitment to justice and equality is more important than any external criticism.

7.   Set Boundaries: Establish clear boundaries to protect your mental and emotional well-being. This might involve limiting exposure to toxic environments, taking breaks when needed, or balancing work/personal life.

8.   Practice Mindfulness: Mindfulness techniques, such as meditation and deep breathing, can help you stay present and manage the overwhelming emotions associated with Shame.

9.   Learn from Criticism: Though sometimes challenging to accept, constructive criticism can provide valuable insights for growth. Differentiate between genuine feedback and baseless attacks.

10. Celebrate Achievements: Acknowledge and celebrate your accomplishments, no matter how small they may seem. Each step forward is a testament to your dedication.

11. Professional Help: If Shame becomes overwhelming and interferes with your well-being, seeking support from a mental health professional can be immensely beneficial.

Graphic with blue background and squiggles. Illustration in center of a group of people eating around a table.

As advocates, your dedication to positive change is inspiring and impactful. Building resilience to Shame is not an overnight process but a journey that requires self-compassion, self-awareness, and ongoing effort. By embracing these strategies, you can fortify your emotional well-being, sustain your passion for advocacy, and contribute to the transformation of society in a meaningful way. Remember, your voice and actions matter, and your resilience in the face of Shame will empower you to provide exceptional care to yourself and the communities you advocate for.