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The Shame Lady's Blog

A new definition of shame

Kristina Cizmar

Shame is all about belonging, and so we can say shame means "I'm not good enough to belong." But there's a little more to it than that. The process I use to transform shame is based on an in-depth definition of shame that comes to us from cognitive scientist Charles M. Jones.

I first met Charles a few years ago in Boulder, Colorado. He is pretty much what you would expect from an incredibly intelligent guy who has devoted his life to studying emotions - generally calm, somewhat serious, and has been known to wear a bow tie. And yet, just as likely to be seen wearing a Grateful Dead t-shirt.

At the time, Charles was successfully using his work on emotions to help executives work with anger. So, I asked him the question, what could this do for shame? I asked the question innocently enough, not having any idea that over the next year or so, I would be so inspired by the answer that I would call myself 'The Shame Lady.'

Here's the full definition of shame, courtesy of Charles M. Jones:

Shame arises

when I am committed 

to personifying an ideal

in a group I belong to

and I'm failing to do so.

Using this complete definition of shame changes our approach to working with shame, and makes a real shift possible!