This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn't)" by Brené Brown. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.
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How can you help others? How can you prevent shame by supporting people?
In I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn’t), Brené Brown explains that shaming is a toxic trait that can be destroyed by supporting others. When you listen and understand other people’s issues, you’ll be able to call people out when they’re being cruel to themselves or others.
Let’s look at how you can help others recognize their bad behavior before it’s too late.
How to Help Others by Communicating
Once you’re able to effectively express your experiences of shame to others and ask for their support, Brown says that you can use these abilities to support others and prevent shame.
So how can you help others improve their attitude toward themselves and others? To support others, be willing to listen to their experiences and pain. When they share their story with you, you can laugh, cry, and feel their emotions with them by tapping into your own experiences. You can share your story with them and let them know that they’re not alone in their pain. You can reassure them that they aren’t defective and provide them with a critical perspective on shame to help them see the bigger picture.
(Shortform note: When you’re listening to others, sharing their emotions and stories, and offering them strategies for overcoming shame, how can you ensure you come across as sincerely empathetic rather than merely sympathetic or pushy? Experts offer various suggestions for ensuring the people you support feel truly heard and valued. First, don’t do things like change the topic, try to make the other person feel better by sharing your “worse” experience, or provide advice unless they ask for it. In addition, thank them for being brave enough to share with you, clarify that you understand what they’re feeling and why, point out their strengths, and remind them that you care and are always there to listen.)
Another way to support others and change the culture of shame is speaking up when you see people being cruel. If you’re in a group, you can stop a shamer by asking a question that makes them reconsider their actions, and you can redirect the conversation away from shame.
For example, if someone is casting doubt on another person’s intelligence, you can redirect the conversation by saying something like, “Maybe he’s really busy with work and didn’t have time to study. I wonder if it would help to form a study group and ask if he’d like to join.” That way, you’re making the shamer confront their negative actions while simultaneously suggesting a way to provide support to the person being shamed.
(Shortform note: If you’re constantly trying and failing to shift the conversation away from a culture of shame, the healthier thing to do might be to make better friends. Experts explain that our mindsets and expectations of what’s acceptable (and not) are often shaped by the people we spend time with. So if your friends seem unwilling to give up their shaming behaviors, the next best thing is probably to remove yourself from those friends and their shame culture, and make friends that have healthier mindsets and a stronger resilience to shame.)
When questioning and redirecting the conversation doesn’t work, directly address the issue with the shamer in a private conversation. Use the technique from the previous section to explain to the shamer how they’re causing shame, how it makes others feel, why it makes them feel that way, and how they can provide support instead. Brown emphasizes avoiding confrontation in a group setting because you’re likely to cause more shame when you bring public attention to the shamers’ bad behavior.
(Shortform note: Many experts agree that holding others accountable for their bad behavior (like shaming) is important to creating positive environments and culture. However, others explain that it’s not always your place to do so—even if you think you’re witnessing a shaming incident like those Brown discusses. For example, maybe you think someone is being shamed and is too shy to confront their shamer, but they actually don’t feel ashamed at all. In this scenario, confronting the perceived “shamer” could create issues for everyone involved. Before interjecting on someone else’s behalf, have a conversation with that person to determine how they feel about the situation and whether they feel intervention is necessary.)
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Here's what you'll find in our full I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn't) summary:
- Brené Brown's guide on what shame is, why it happens, how it impacts our lives
- How to build empathy and combat shame
- Why it's important to talk about shame with others