Men, Women, and Shame

You’ve no doubt watched a baby learning to walk, yes? He’s vulnerable. He falls down. A lot. He cries. He looks for empathy. But, no matter what, it’s in his DNA to get back up and try again. His vulnerability doesn’t stop him. He’s just learning what doesn’t work in walking. And he’s training his muscles to do what they’re created to do.

However, long before he reaches adulthood …

  • life experience will teach him to hide his vulnerability.
  • He will go from knowing he’s failed to believing he’s a failure.
  • And that’s called shame.

Everyone experience these feelings. And everyone knows how debilitating they can be. But men and women think about vulnerability very differently. [continue reading]

More from the Expert on Shame & Vulnerability

  1. Men are frequently shamed by the women they love.
  2. Most men don’t have a clue how to respond to a woman’s vulnerability.

Brené Brown is an expert on vulnerability & shame.

This excerpt from her TED Talk on Listening to Shame says it powerfully.

shame vulnerability
Dr. Brené Brown

Shame, for women, is this web of unobtainable, conflicting, competing expectations about who we’re supposed to be. And it’s a straight-jacket.

For men, shame is not a bunch of competing, conflicting expectations. Shame is one [expectation]. Do not be perceived as … what? Weak.

I did not interview men for the first four years of my study. It wasn’t until a man looked at me after a book signing, and said, “I love what you say about shame. I’m curious why you didn’t mention men.”

And I said, “I don’t study men.”

And he said, “That’s convenient.”

And I said, “Why?”

And he said, “Because you say to reach out, tell our story, be vulnerable. But you see those books you just signed for my wife and my three daughters?”

I said, “Yeah.”

“They’d rather me die on top of my white horse than watch me fall down. When we reach out and be vulnerable, we get the shit beat out of us. And don’t tell me it’s from the guys and the coaches and the dads. Because the women in my life are harder on me than anyone else.”

So I started interviewing men and asking questions. And what I learned is this: You show me a woman who can actually sit with a man in real vulnerability and fear, I’ll show you a woman who’s done incredible work.

You show me a man who can sit with a woman who’s just had it, she can’t do it all anymore, and his first response is not, “I unloaded the dishwasher!”

But he really listens — because that’s all we need — I’ll show you a guy who’s done a lot of work.

Brené Brown, Listening to Shame (watch clip below)
YouTube player
Shame is an unspoken epidemic, the secret behind many forms of broken behavior. Brené Brown, whose earlier Ted Talk on vulnerability became a viral hit, explores what can happen when people confront their shame head-on. Her own humor, humanity, and vulnerability shine through every word.