by Heidi J. Dalzell, PsyD.
Too many women are terrified of taking risks and making a mistake, socially or otherwise, because they fear other people shaming them.
Christiane Northrup, M.D., Goddesses Never Age
I remember my first experience of being shamed in the workplace. It was before I’d made the leap to a psychology practice and a corporate trainer in a large financial services firm. My supervisor, miffed at something, said to me sternly “I thought you were perfect, but …” It wasn’t in the words, or dismissive tone. It was more in the message I did not measure up.
I felt a deep sense of shame.
There were other similar comments from this supervisor, about the way I dressed and interacted, even that my gloves made my hands look too big. A coworker who was being laid off from a defunct department did not get a job within ours because my supervisor noticed a thread on her skirt. And so on. While these experiences were a good number of years ago now, I still obsessively check for those hanging threads that could hold me back.
The most damaging thing about these comments: my supervisor was another woman.
And her expectations were unattainable.
Women are routinely shamed within the workplace: for their bodies, their personalities, their dress, and feelings. They may be shamed for being different from the corporate culture. Many such messages tap in to childhood wounds, proving our “badness” again and again.
Because shame is so global, we internalize it, literally taking it into our bodies.
Why Is Internalized Shame So Negative?
Comments like the one I received don’t provide a growing experience or one that encourages risk taking and creativity. If I could not wear the gloves I wanted, how could I present an innovative new idea in our staff meetings? Or take a risk in trying something new?
Christiane Northrup, in her renowned book on women’s health, identifies shame as hands-down the most destructive emotion that women can experience. It drains women, of their life-forces and creativity. Instead they put their energy into self-hared and self-preservation.
Shame results in feeling unlovable and unworthy. People who are shamed develop a harsh inner critic.
Shame holds you back. Gay Hendricks, author of The Big Leap calls this an “upper limit problem.” Women who hold on to shame may not feel that they deserve love, freedom or success.
Resolving Internalized Shame
The good news: we can resolve shame.
If you are shamed within the workplace, there are several questions that you can ask yourself. Is any part of this feedback true? If so, what can I do to change this? What have I learned from this situation?
When the feedback does not fit, it’s also ok to reject it without needing to understand where it came from.
It’s also important to be aware of your inner dialogue. If you are talking to yourself in a way that you would not talk to a cherished person in your life, adopt a more compassionate tone and message.
Opening ourselves to compassion leads to forgiveness of past shame as well as greater self-acceptance. It can be a hard lesson but one that is vital for success in the workplace.