Mentoring Those Dealing With Shame

August 2, 2020 John R. Hatfield 0 Comments



John R. Hatfield
IG Bravemansociety

-Merle Fossum

The pervasive sense that one is fundamentally bad, inadequate, defective, unworthy, or not fully valid, has given definition through the years to many by the following agents of shame: family, religious communities, media, schools, peers, workplace, and culture. It has robbed the person of their identity, self –respect, dignity, and personhood. These destruction agents pass the verdict of condemnation, judgment, and hate. When someone or a culture takes the position of judging, they are taking a position of superiority over the person they judge. This self -righteous, arrogant, condescending, damning position comes from unhealthy people.

Renowned shame researcher Brene Brown (2007) defines shame as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of acceptance and belonging-something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection”. Alan Wright (2005) defines shame as “a feeling of being inwardly flawed-of not measuring up”. One of our deepest needs and longing as humans is to feel and be loved not for what we accomplish but simply to be loved unconditionally for who we are. Everyone has a deep need to belong, to be connected. For example, someone born gay, cannot change their identity or someone who has gone through a divorce, cannot change the event, regardless if it was their fault or not. Yet they experience others who treat them as unworthy of acceptance, flawed, defective, and not validated.

Many people associate guilt and shame as the same. But they are drastically different. “Guilt is associated with a desire to apologize, make reparations, and be forgiven. In distinguishing guilt from shame some define guilt as stemming from a focus on one’s bad behavior, in contrast with shames focus on the global self, others see guilt as private, a matter of one’s conscience, and shame as public, a matter of one’s reputation.” Stearns (2004) How does one apologize for being born gay or being divorced because a spouse left them or being a rape victim?

The mentor must learn to help the person love themselves and reject the judgment, condemnation, moral superiority, mean-minded narrowness, sanctimonious moralism, and hate that they are fundamentally bad, inadequate, defective, unworthy, or not fully valid as a human. Examples such as a gay or lesbian person being defective and not fully valid because they were born gay, divorced people being fundamentally bad and rejected because their marriage failed, people recovering from eating, alcohol, sexual, drug addictions being judged, condemned and deemed unworthy and those who have been abused or raped as being inadequate. Shame proclaiming is a cruel and powerful weapon, especially in the hands of the legalists and morally superior who are unhealthy and damaged. Perhaps they are trying to get rid of their own shame through their legalistic perfectionism and moral superiority, as well as their judgmental condemning attitude of the same issues they deal with and hate in themselves.

Shame causes hiding, a covering up of the true self.  Forms of covering up are perfectionism, fear, blame, addiction, hyper-morality and responsibility, as well as, the need to be liked and loved by everyone. “The critical component of shame is public exposure of the wrongdoing or inadequacies, while others identify shame as self-degradation and feeling of worthlessness. In both cases, shame involves the desire to hide from others, Stearns (2004). Abandonment of your true self is rejection of how you were created.  It is self- betrayal.  This form of self- hatred causes many to create or try to become something they were never meant to be to receive acceptance and validation from others, our culture, and more importantly from themselves. Self- deception is a cunning, baffling, and powerful enemy of the true self.

When gay or lesbian men and women try to become straight so they can be accepted, validated, and deemed worthy of dignity and respect while denying who they actually are they move down a road of self- hatred. Many have gotten married thinking it will validate they are not gay and then years later the marriage ends in divorce adding more shame into their life.  Some faith communities, family, peers, media, work environment, and culture advocate, promote and support abandonment from true identity, the authentic self.  Secret living, pretending, and lying that one is not gay is destructive. For many they learned to hide behind a beautiful image, learning to split themselves apart and learning to conform to the expectations of others sadly in a crucial time of emotional development. Alan Downs (2005) describes it as” We became puppets of a sort-allowing those around us to pull the strings that made us act in acceptable ways, all the while knowing that we couldn’t trust ourselves. How could we love ourselves when everything around us told us that we were unlovable? Instead we chased the affection, approval, and attention doled out by others.” Living a lie, or having secrets and pretending to be something you are not are cataclysmic.  It ravages the soul. Being raised or living in a cultural environment of bigatry, prejudice, and mis-understanding   can cause identiy confusion, lonliness, isolation, hopelessness, and arrests developmental growth into maturity.  This arresting or delayed emotional maturity is happening at different levels in our culture. Pictues of arresting are when a thirty or forty year old acts like a fourteen year old in certain areas of life.They are stuck. The work of emotional development theorists Lawrence Kohlberg and Erik Erikson shed insight on the stages of emotional development and what should happen in each stage of emotional development.

Ironically, the victim of pain and hurt, if not healed, often will become the afflicter.  Like a boomerang, it comes back because hurt people, hurt people.  Un-healed judgment, bigotry, condemnation, rejection, hatefulness will in turn have devastating  consequences that reach into friendships, partners, marriages, relationships and the work environment.   Bottom-line…the abused that have not become well, may become the abuser.

Unless shame is identified, understood and dealt with, it becomes our master and we its slave.  It robs us of our identity, speaks lies to us clothed in half-truth and it creates a dualistic lifestyle. Additionally, it blocks us from receiving love, paralyzes us with depression, causes us to hate ourselves, and shame’s ultimate goal is our self- destruction. Sadly, shame is like a raincoat that repels the rain of love from others. 

A mentor is someone with knowledge and skill that empowers a learner through example, instruction, dialogue, affirmation, challenge, and support, preferably in the context of an authentic relationship. As mentors it is imperative that we understand the different roles of mentoring and be able to match them to the specific mentoring need. There are five distinct mentor roles: professor, counselor, parent, coach, and peer.  Categorizing mentoring into these five roles provides simplicity, clarity, vision, and purpose. Defining and understanding roles such as: parent, counselor, professor, peer and coach help the mentor codify the role they must assume. For example, in mentoring people dealing with shame you would not use the role of professor or peer but the role of counselor. Mentors must keenly be aware that when they take this role they are not a professional licensed practitioner, are limited in their advocacy, and refer serious issues to a professional. Additionally, many mentors work alongside and in coordination with counselors.

Mentors need to be equipped in the counseling role of mentoring. Strengths of the counseling role would be compassion, empathy, listening, care, acceptance, unconditional love, understanding, and providing encouragement and hope regardless of whom they are or what they have done.  The purpose of this role is to create an atmosphere of trusting supportive interaction that can help the mentee take steps for solving an issue or problem. A mentor who is accepting, non-judgmental and supportive is imperative.

Mentor role strategies as counselor:

1) Listening and formulating insightful questions. 

“Listening is the process of receiving, constructing meaning from and responding to spoken and or non-verbal messages” (International Listening Association, 1996) There is great power in listening. Everyone needs to be heard and it communicates value, dignity, respect, and worth. It is a lost art and it takes practice to get good at it. “We were all given two ears but only one mouth, since listening is twice as hard as talking” Larry  Nidig (2004). Listening involves focused concentration. Nadig states, “Active or reflective listening is the single most useful and important listening skill. In active listening we are also genuinely interested in understanding what the other person is thinking, feeling, wanting, or what the message means and we are active in checking out our understanding before we respond without our own new message and reflect it back to the sender for verification. This verification or feedback process is what distinguishes active listening and makes it effective”. Mentors need to both understand the importance of active listening and develop it as a skill set when mentoring. In times of shame, the person needs active listening, as well as, a safe, trusting environment to pour out his/her heart and soul and not be judged.  Many times the shamed person is confused and in a state of disillusionment, and part of the unraveling process is simply being able to communicate and for you the mentor to speak back to them what you heard. Nadig states that “effective communication exits between two people when the receiver interprets and understands the senders message in the same way the sender intended it” Many times, during this time of talking, it does not mean they have come to a final conclusion (destination), it just means they need to communicate and are in process (journey). Your job is to listen and verify what you heard them say, not give advice, or draw conclusions, and formulate insightful questions for their personal discovery to untangle confusing and complex issues.

2) Reflection and journaling

Reflection is paramount as a mentoring strategy and significantly beneficial as it gives insight through thinking and writing. Deep inner insight can pour up from the well of refection giving discernment and truth. David Kolb’s experiential learning theory addresses reflection as an aspect of experiential learning. David Kolb (1984) believes learning is a cycle. He has developed a four-stage model of learning, including reflective observation, abstract conceptualization, concrete experience, and active experimentation.

Donald Schon (2001) addresses reflection in professional practice in the role of reflection in counseling. Many times we believe lies and half-truths that always lead us down paths of destruction. Consistent, quiet times of journaling, and reflection help a person dealing with shame identify these lies and half-truths they have believed and acted upon. Half-truths are tricky to uncover but the reflection time is well spent because of their destructive nature. As the mentor, your role is to help provide insightful reflection questions. You prime the pump. The challenge is identifying the right question. Anyone can come up with questions, but the right question unlocks the treasure chest that yields gold. “Journaling speaks to the psychology of learning through writing, enumerates the connections between writing and learning and explains why journal writing is a powerful learning tool, uniquely suited for professional thought and reflection” Yinger and Clark (1981). Journaling with the purpose of identifying key life lessons compounds writing and learning helping the person identify and articulate truths and values they choose to embrace, as well as, identifying lies and half-truths and how they affected their unhealthy personhood and decision-making.

3) Affirmation, encouragement and hope

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Mentee’s dealing with shame need your presence, shoulder to shoulder, heart to heart. You may be the only person standing with them as many will abandon, reject, condemn, judge, hate, and ostracize them, causing shame. It means you stand with them during the process of restoration. You choose to love them unconditionally. You accept them for who they are and not for whom they should be, affirming and encouraging their progress. Alfred Alder (1870-1937) states, “That when we feel encouraged, we feel capable and appreciated and will generally act in a connected and cooperative way. When we are discouraged, we may act in unhealthy ways by competing, withdrawing, or giving up.” Alder a world renowned philosopher and psychiatrist stressed the need to understand individuals within their social context. Affirmation is the statement or proposition that is declared to be true, a confirmation or ratification of the truth. And encouragement brings hope. “Every man is entitled to be valued by his best moments”, Ralph Waldo Emerson. Hope is the feeling that what is wanted can be had and that events will turn out for the best. Hope is epic to recovery, healing, and changing. As the mentor to people who have been shamed you must continue to speak and give pictures of where they are in the process providing the vision picture of reality, as well as, exposing the unhealthiness of those who are responsible for dispensing shame. They need to process hate, bigotry, condemnation, judgment, and slander that are coming from another and realize the one vomiting has the problem not the one being vomited on. They can wipe off the vomit and then wisely remove themselves from the vomitter.  According to Charles Snyder’s (2000) Hope theory, “hope is both a cognitive and affective element. There are three components associated with hope. 1) having goal-oriented thoughts; 2) developing strategies to achieve goals; and 3) being motivated to expand effort to achieve goals.” An individual’s belief in their ability to realize these components determines the likelihood they will develop a sense of hope. Mentors need to help the person who has been devalued because of being born gay, involved in a divorce, being sexual abused, struggling with an eating disorder or addiction develop strategies and goals for change using refection, journaling, listening, feedback verification, encouragement, affirmation, and support.  Hope helps give correct perspective to the shamed person .We all need help with correct perspective and hope. Hopelessness will lead to depression and the quagmire of defeat and self-hatred with no resolution.

4) Emotional Intelligence

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Since 1993, Peter Salovey and John D. Mayer have been the leading researchers on emotional intelligence.  In their influential article “Emotional Intelligence,” they defined emotional intelligence as, “the subset of social intelligence that involves the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and actions” (1993) .  In regards to the strength of empathy Cohn & Moran (2011) states that empathy allows someone to use their emotional resonance to pick up important cues”.  When you mentor from the counseling role you dispense grace, understanding, empathy, and acceptance and have the skills to listen, ask questions, and pick up significant cues and guide.

Mattering refers to the beliefs people have, justifiably or not, that they matter to someone else, and that they are the object of someone’s attention, care, and appreciation.  In reference to Schlossberg, Lynch, and Chickering’s (as cited in Moore, 1990) Mentee’s must perceive they are the object of the mentors attention and care and that they matter. The counseling mentoring role displays mattering in numerous ways, from giving attention, care, and appreciation through listening and giving affirmation and hope. Just their presence in relationship and ability to speak truth against hate, bigotry, condemnation, judgment, and ignorance is extremely valuable.

Schlossberg’s theory of marginality and mattering construct says

  • Attention-the feeling that one is noticed.
  • Importance-A belief that one is cared about.
  • Ego-Extension-Feeling that another person feels proud of ones successes.
  • Dependence-A feeling of being needed by others.
  • Appreciation-Feeling that one’s efforts are appreciated by others.

As a mentor understanding and applying principles from this construct is beneficial in mentoring someone dealing with shame. For example, the mentee needs to feel the mentor is proud of their progress and transformation.

5) Truth discernment

In 1902, Charles Horton Cooley created the concept of the looking-glass self, which explored how the identity is formed. Cooley stated that a person’s self grows out of society’s interpersonal interactions and the perceptions of others. There are three components of the looking-glass self: we imagine how we appear to others, we image the judgment of that appearance, and we develop our self (identity) through the judgment of others. Mentors help people who have been deemed as fundamentally bad, inadequate, defective, unworthy, or not fully valid as a human being to have a correct view of themselves and expose why these  accusations come from unhealthy, hateful, ignorant people. Mentors help them focus on their true self-identity and the changes they are making and keep them aligned and centered, moving toward true north. They give them truth and expose lies and half-truths as transformation occurs.

The purpose of the role of counselor is to create an atmosphere of trusting supportive interaction  that can help the person take steps for solving an issue or problem. The counselor has skills of listening, asking questions, emotional intelligence, acceptance, empathy, care, and understanding. Mentors can have a profound impact in the life of a person dealing with shame as they hold the hose washing away the filth of shame that covers and hides the true self.

John R. Hatfield


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Mentoring Those Dealing With Shame was last modified: December 18th, 2020 by John R. Hatfield