Blake Reichenbach - Feb 18, 2020

Why Should We Talk More About Shame

Did you know that white men accounted for 69.67% of all suicide deaths in 2017? Or that well over one-third of men admit to feelings of chronic loneliness? Did you know that low self-esteem is strongly linked to alcohol and substance abuse?

Shame is the undercurrent driving the tide of each of these statistics, so imagine instead that men had a framework for dealing with their shame, healing their relationships, and forming a healthy community.

That's what I'm offering with my upcoming project: Shameless Lab.

With Shameless Lab, I'm going to be looking into the causes of shame, the ways in which it manifests itself, and– most importantly– what you can do about it.

Why Focus on Something as Heavy as Shame?

Shame is one of those topics that is going to hit close to home for pretty much all of us. We all have experiences that we associate with shame. Whether it was a mistake we made and can't forget about or someone else's words or actions that made us feel inferior or out of place, shame is a universal experience.

Without realizing it, I had been writing about shame for the better part of the last two years. The revelations I had in my own life that I then turned into blog posts about wellness, fashion, and self-improvement were typically rooted in either coming to terms with my own shame or observing shame-based behaviors in someone else.

In the first full week of February, I had the opportunity to go to Boulder, Colorado for a writing retreat that was hosted by the fabulous Sam Horn. Her book, Someday is Not a Day of the Week, was one of the most influential books I've read in the last year. Having the opportunity to hone my craft under her guidance was such an unexpected delight and I leapt at the opportunity.

Going into the weekend, I had a particular project in mind that had virtually nothing to do with shame. My expectation was that I would go into the retreat with this project, flesh out my ideas for it, and then leap directly into writing.

Given the intimate nature of the retreat, however, I ended up having more time to work one-on-one with other writers to flesh out my ideas. Most impactful, however, was getting to hear Sam's input on my work and for her to impart her reflections. From the offset, it was astounding to get to hear someone who I so greatly respect say that she had read some of my work and that she felt I had a very strong voice as a writer.

But I couldn't be starstruck for very long.

She pivoted slightly, saying that she was hearing me discuss a particular topic over and over again even though I wasn't using the word. She elucidated that she could detect the theme of shame as a common theme across my work.

All of a sudden, the project that I had had in mind felt more appropriate for an e-book that I could give away here on BlakeWrites or sell as an e-book on Amazon rather than something that should be my primary focus.

Shame, on the other hand, was a punch to the gut, a flash of lightning, and a moment of inspiration. Sam was absolutely right– I had been writing about shame for quite a while already and had a decent foundation in the study of it.

The Hopefulness of Shame

What stood out to me as particularly promising about focusing in on shame is the sheer magnitude of everything that shame touches. Shame is something we learn and internalize across the course of our lives, and it's something that men have a particularly difficult time processing due to the gendered ways we've been taught to approach difficult emotions.

For example, ask yourself if any of the following situations seem relevant to you at all:

  • Often, when you look at your reflection, you think about a joke or snide comment someone made about your body when you were younger.
  • When you make a mistake, you'd rather bury it or try to shift the blame than own up to it.
  • At the gym, when you see someone lifting more weight than you, you feel the need to add more weight to what you're lifting or you pretend to be sore/ have an injury to justify lifting a lower weight.
  • When someone else is successful or receiving praise, you feel uncomfortable and feel like you should be the one receiving their accolades.
  • You frequently find yourself using your money, physique, status, possessions, or intellect to come across as more dominant or important than others.
  • You have an "I'll be happy when I _____" attitude.
  • You often find yourself one-upping others when you're having conversations, even if it's not necessarily something positive (i.e. "oh you work hard? Yeah, I work extra hard" or "you're stressed? Me too. I'm so stressed that I'm *insert symptom here*").
  • You often find yourself dwelling on mistakes you've made in the past, even if they were several years ago.
  • When others invite you to participate or try to include you in plans, you sometimes feel like they're only doing so out of pity and they don't actually like you all that much.
  • When someone tries to talk to you about something sensitive, you choose to crack a joke or turn stoic so that you don't have to open up.

Any of that sound familiar? If so, you probably have a shame problem.

I wrote this list quite quickly because it came incredibly naturally to me– so much of my own behaviors and struggles that have historically held me back are entirely based on shame that I had internalized without realizing it. I don't write this list to call anybody out. I write it because I'm looking in a mirror and analyzing my past– and some present– behaviors.

But that's also why this project gives me so much hope.

When you know the root cause of an issue, you can treat it. Let's say you have a sharp pain in your hip. You can take Tylenol or Ibuprofen every six hours and reduce the pain and inflammation, but each time the medicine fades off the pain comes back. Alternatively, you could see a medical professional and learn that you've got a pulled muscle. With that knowledge, you and your doctor can put together a prescriptive approach to relieving your pain in the short-term, healing your muscle injury, and, through physical therapy, preventing similar injuries in the long-term.

You can treat the symptoms when you don't know the root cause. You can heal when you do know the root cause. The same is true for shame.

It is my hope that the more we study and speak about shame, the easier it is to get at the root of what causes our shame so that we can best address it.

What Comes Next for BlakeWrites and Shame?

In order to gather more data on shame, I'm currently sourcing responses to the questionnaire that I've embedded below. If you have so much as five minutes, please consider submitting the questionnaire! Each response helps me out tremendously in building my own data set to work with.

From there, we'll let the data decide a lot of what comes next, but at this point I intend to turn the data collected into a manuscript and workshops. I don't want to just have a functioning knowledge about shame– I want to put that knowledge to work and use it to help people live better lives. Living better is basically my brand at this point.

Written by Blake Reichenbach

He/ Him/ His pronouns. Blake is a writer, gym addict, dog dad, researcher, and general life enthusiast. He's passionate about helping others reach their goals and live happier, more fulfilling lives.