Avoiding the Shame Sandwich

I agree with you, that is a terrible name for a post. But it makes great snarky sense if you recall that way back in 2013 I wrote the original post, The Shame Sandwich.

This time we will be revisiting the topic. Maybe reheating would be more accurate.

If all this does is make you hungry for a sandwich, then I will accept that as a win.


What an awful topic, Jesus.

And believe me, I picked an item of food for a good reason, since we all can have shameful reactions to foods and the complicated things we can do and feel about food. But this post is not just about food shame.

If you Google shame, you will find a relative dearth of useful information. There are other people and works that can be helpful around shame, such as Bessel Van der Kolk and Janina Fischer, but for this post, and this search, the most useful things I found were all related to Brene Brown and her work. Which is all really good, and I have recommended her in the past and still recommend that you get to know her work.

Reading the original post again, I am (1) glad that I still like it (yeah, for self-acceptance) and (2) see it was mostly framed around working with narcissists, as was my focus back then.

Shame is not just for those of us recovering from relationships with narcissists, or just really invalidating environments/people. Shame is potentially everywhere.

Thinking about shame and how it works in 2017, the first word that comes to mind is EMBEDDED. As in, our thoughts, feelings, actions can all be embedded in a layer of shame.

According to Brown’s book, I Thought It Was Just Me, the first step is getting to know our triggers. In the original post, the obvious trigger was the narcissist in your life. This is a more personally focused perspective. Who or what or how do you experience shame? It could be certain thoughts. It could be certain things about yourself: your body, aspects of your history, your secrets, all of the above.

Brown has a great concept she calls “unwanted identities.” As in, these ways of seeing ourselves, or the fear of being seen as this or that unwanted identity is what can trigger our shame. For example someone might be operating under the impression of: “I always have to know the answers. I can’t look weak.” The unwanted identity would then be something like, a weak, indecisive person. When that person experiences themselves, or fears others experience them in that way—bam! Shame.

The next step Brown describes is critical awareness. Put simply, critical awareness is the ability and awareness to scan your environment and to not make the mistake of feeling solely responsible for any number of bad or unfortunate things that could happen in that environment. Anytime you automatically assume a person’s reaction is somehow your doing is an example of not using critical awareness. You also risk becoming the equivalent of a human punching bag. It also suggests you are far too focused on your inner (and most likely negative) self talk than what is actually going on around you (spatial awareness). Critical Awareness from this perspective is the way to counter and defend against some kinds of negative self-talk and judgment.

Some more examples of not using critical awareness are: Assuming people are laughing at you as you walk by them instead of realizing they are focused and laughing at what is playing on their smart phones; becoming mad and aggravated at a presentation you are giving in front of peers while some of them are not paying attention, but not acknowledging it is lunch time and everyone is actually quite hungry; snapping at your partner for not responding to a question you asked them when they are in another room and didn’t even hear you speak.

Critical Awareness is a wonderful skill to build on. It is perhaps the skill that prevents us from biting into that shame sandwich in the first place.

There are 2 more steps in Brown’s book, but let’s talk more about critical awareness before moving on. But that will have to wait.

Until next time.

Thank your for still reading.

About Therapyisdandy

A dandy therapist
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