wholehearted living

Knowing Your Shame Triggers

Right in the moment, my knees go weak.

Then later my brain fixates on what happened and won’t let go.

Brené Brown says our physical reaction to shame is much the same as our reaction to trauma.

When I first heard Brené talk about shame, I didn’t think I’d relate. My life is pretty straightforward right now (married, 3 kids, a blog…the usual), and I don’t have many skeletons in my closet.

But as I continued to read and listen to Brené talk about her research, I learned that shame for most of us is just that quiet feeling of “not enough.”

Now that is a feeling I’m familiar with.

It’s not so much that I feel inadequate in general. I actually feel pretty worthy, pretty complete on the whole. I bet many of you are right there with me.

But at the same time, I’m keenly aware of the qualities I don’t have. And those are my “not enough’s.”

According to Brené Brown, shame is the feeling of "not enough," and the first step to shame resilience is recognizing when you're experiencing it. | How Knowing Your Shame Triggers Can Change Your Life

For the sake of my own authenticity, today I’m sharing four shame triggers that I’m particularly susceptible to, as well as a whole list of others that get me from time to time—and I’m guessing, probably get you too.

Not extraordinary enough. Even as a kid I hated that icebreaker where you introduce yourself by sharing one unique thing about yourself. I felt pretty darn ordinary. Then as I got ready to go away to college (BYU), people kept making comments about how I’d get married and start having kids before I became anything. I still feel this pull to be someone, when really, I’m already someone.

Not authentic enough. Considering how much I want to live fully, to be all in, it drives me nuts when I’m not feeling true to myself. I feel like a failure when I say yes too much or when I get caught up in busy-ness that isn’t meaningful to me.

Not easygoing enough. Smaaalllll chance I have a family history of micromanaging. 🙂 So when I find myself following suit, I instantly feel shame that I haven’t completely shaken it. I tell myself I’m “not easygoing enough” or “not flexible enough.” That’s shame at work.

Not spiritual enough.

More shame triggers you may be familiar with:

  • Not organized enough 
  • Not certain / decisive enough 
  • Not quiet enough
  • Not thin enough 
  • Not creative enough
  • Not outgoing enough 
  • Not compassionate / generous / selfless enough 
  • Not productive enough
  • Not qualified enough

Wholehearted people know what qualities they don’t have, but they wake up every morning and still feel “enough.” I want my kids to wake up with that feeling.

But first, I’ve got to cultivate shame resilience in myself by learning to recognize when I feel it and by practicing moving through it.

Sneak peek: The way you move through shame is by telling your story to someone who is worthy to hear it. More on that here: Wholehearted Living: Moving Through Shame

SO, who’s up for a challenge? 🙂 If you feel like sharing a part of your authentic self with Let Why Lead readers—what triggers do you think you are particularly susceptible to? 

  • Brittany
    June 24, 2014 at 4:27 am

    Wow – this must have taken a lot of courage to post. Thank you for sharing. I struggle with one of the points you mentioned, “not productive enough.” I work a full-time job and I have a husband and little boy and generally I have a heaviness that I could have spent more time with my son or husband, prepared a nicer meal, made time for a workout or done more at work. Thank you for putting some of these thoughts into perspective for me.

    • Erica Layne
      June 24, 2014 at 6:56 am

      FOR SURE, Brittany. I think a ton of us are susceptible to feeling like we didn’t DO enough. I feel it all the time, and I’m not even working full time! You are amazing! (And I hope you believe that.)

  • Missy June
    June 24, 2014 at 6:26 am

    I think the concept of shame triggers is something to which most of us can relate. Like you, I often feel extremely ordinary and the sense of being good enough has haunted me since childhood. Sometimes feeling ‘spiritual’ enough in a family that is very religious and yes, being involved, engaged, aware, and on-top-of-it-enough as a mother. As an aging woman in America, with wounds from past betrayals, feeling attractive enough/thin enough/young enough is a challenge.

    • Erica Layne
      June 24, 2014 at 6:53 am

      Oh Missy, these are such powerful additions to our list. I turn 30 at the beginning of next year ( although I think I FEEL older because I have three kids :), and I’m already feeling those pulls of not young enough, not vivacious enough when I see my reflection (bags / wrinkles around my eyes) at the end of the day. Media influences are incredibly pervasive. And not being spiriting enough – I’m with you too. Not necessarily within my family, but I definitely feel like pangs of that from time to time at church. Thank you so much for drawing those ones out for us.

  • Katie
    June 24, 2014 at 9:16 am

    Wow! This post is definitely answer to prayer. Just last night I was feeling really down about not being enough in LOTS of areas: motherhood, church calling, work and personal development. Thank you for your insights!

    Sometimes my triggers are past mistakes rearing their heads up, trying to get me down and make me feel like I’ll never be fully recovered or whole — like I’ll always be a dirty dish rag…that’s not a good feeling! Like you, there aren’t a lot of skeletons in the closet, but shame can sure make me feel that way.

    Your post reminded me to shake the shame, to not give it the power it naturally assumes. Thanks for that!

    • Erica Layne
      June 24, 2014 at 8:24 pm

      Hi Katie! I was so touched by your comment – Thank you so much for taking the time to reach out! I am right there with ya. I’ll be talking about this in the near(ish) future, but one of the best things you can do once you’ve recognized it is to talk to someone who you know can respond with empathy. As Brene would say, shame can’t STAND to be spoken; it instantly starts to dissipate. This is why good friends and a good spouse really can be a lifesaver. 🙂 You have a good week!

  • Sierra Burton
    June 24, 2014 at 3:32 pm

    Oh man you nailed it. I could agree with all of these triggers, especially your top three. I want to take your challenge! I think it is good for us to recognize what our triggers are, but my question is…what do we do to overcome these triggers?

    Thank you Erica!

    • Erica Layne
      June 24, 2014 at 8:28 pm

      Hi Sierra! Great to hear from you! I’ll try to touch on it in the near future, but one of the big things you can do once you’ve recognized shame is to talk to someone who can respond in empathy—someone who can relate. As Brene would say, shame can’t STAND to be spoken; it instantly starts to dissipate. Recognizing it, voicing it, and giving yourself a big dose of compassion are key.

      Hopping over now to read your post about confidence!!

      • vickie
        June 24, 2014 at 9:52 pm

        I don’t think there is a sure cure. That’s how we improve ourself, by being objective. So a little pressure can be good but too much can be depressing.
        Some things that have helped me is *talking to others; mom’s that I can relate to, at pre school so of, park day, church, wherever, I’ve found that race and religion don’t make a difference we all struggle (sometimes even age, elders have wisdom too! )
        **reading, blogs, articles, friends Facebook page. Same idea, learning how alike we are no matter how different or lives may be!
        ***talking to close family or friends for actual support and encouragement. Admitting your “guilt” and allowing yourself to feel that way in order to push through it and become a stronger spirit.
        ****and repeat because there is always something were working through and so is someone else!!! You never know who your meant to inspire.

  • vickie
    June 24, 2014 at 9:34 pm

    So I read somewhere that first child usually feel like they need approval. I definitely feel that.
    *That things could be better, ie.: something could always be cleaner, more organized, etc. (I’m a bit of a perfectionist)
    * I’m always afraid of leaving someone out. I have a lot of friends that don’t have family around and I don’t want them to feel alone.
    *I’m always doing too much but feel like I’m not doing enough.

    • Erica Layne
      June 24, 2014 at 10:07 pm

      First of all, girl, you really nailed it with your comments tonight, especially your ways of moving through shame. They are all spot on. (And I think I could benefit from some practice in all areas!)

      Is it weird to say that I love one of your shame triggers?? The one about worrying about leaving someone out. That is so YOU, and I think it’s a great quality (when kept in check, of course). You really are an incredible friend. It’s one of your biggest gifts.

  • Jessi
    June 27, 2014 at 1:50 pm

    Oh my heavens, I seriously just now posted a post on this exact same thing. I called mine shame triggers “walls.” I feel like there are walls in my life I can’t seem to break through and they are starting to define me! I would love to participate in a challenge, as I’m pretty stuck in this rut right now. Great post Erica!

    • Erica Layne
      July 6, 2014 at 3:19 pm

      Hi Jessi! I’m back from vacation and just read your beautiful post about walls. I’m with ya – some things I just cannot seem to get down no matter how hard I try, but I’m loving this journey of feeling “enough” regardless. We are a couple of blessed girls.

      SO, about my totally informal challenge… 🙂 If you write this month about some specific shame triggers that affect you, I’ll share your post (either by social media or here on the blog, or both) at the end of the month. I WISH I could send tons of traffic your way, but I do think it’s a really big topic for women to be introduced to, so I’d LOVE to see you help spread it. Let me know if you do!

  • Shelley @ Calypso in the Country
    June 28, 2014 at 10:53 am

    Erica, I can totally relate to what you posted. We all feel like we are not enough in one way or another. Just the other day I completely screwed up in the mom department and was SO mad at myself. I am a stay at home mom so I always feel like I should at least get the parenting thing right! Well the other day I was finishing up at the dentist and while I was scheduling my next appointment I asked them when my kids next appointments were. Well, they did not have anything scheduled. In fact, they hadn’t been there in one year! I have always made sure they had dental cleanings/checkups every six months and somehow I missed the last one! I was so upset with myself and drove home sobbing about what a terrible mom I was. My husband on the other hand thought I was crazy and said, oh well, just make sure you don’t miss the next one! Now they are scheduled to go in three weeks and I am praying that they don’t have any cavities or I won’t forgive myself! So, yes, there are times when I feel that I am “not enough…

    • Erica Layne
      July 3, 2014 at 12:52 pm

      Shelley – Sorry I am late getting back to you (we’re doing some family reunions right now), but I wanted to say you are just the sweetest. Your kids are lucky to have a mom who is so invested in their well-being, on all our fronts. And your husband sounds a little like mine. 🙂 Sometimes it’s nice to have them bring us back down to reality, right? 🙂 You are a great mom!

  • Sierra Burton
    July 2, 2014 at 11:36 am


    Could I borrow your picture that says “the feeling of not enough….”. I want to write a post about this on my blog and I plan to link it back to here. Let me know.

    Thank you!

    • Erica Layne
      July 3, 2014 at 12:44 pm

      Sierra – sorry I’m late getting back to you, but go for it! I’m honored!

      • Sierra Burton
        July 8, 2014 at 10:47 pm

        I just posted. Let me know what you think!

  • Nora
    July 2, 2014 at 11:43 pm

    I just discovered your blog today and look forward to following along from now on. Love the way you frame heartfelt thoughts in such a practical and approachable way.

    • Erica Layne
      July 3, 2014 at 12:43 pm

      Hi Nora – thank you so much! I’m honored to have you along, and I’m hopping over to visit you right now! 🙂

  • Nicki
    July 9, 2014 at 8:34 pm

    So interesting that our physical reaction to shame is the same as trauma. I can certainly feel this if I’ve done something that’s hurt someone or let them down. I think everyone can relate to shame in weaknesses, and it’s comforting in a way to know that we aren’t alone in those insecurities. Thanks for sharing!

  • Donna
    August 5, 2014 at 11:44 am

    Hi Erica! I just discovered your blog and I’m really excited to follow along. You’re so open and honest in all your posts and I can really relate to what you’re saying, especially in this post. I watched Brene Brown Ted Talks on both Shame and Vulnerability just last week and it really resonated with me.
    I really want to write a post about my shame triggers. Do you mind if I use the image at the top of your post? I promise to link back to you.:)
    Thanks again for the inspiration!

    • Erica Layne
      August 5, 2014 at 1:48 pm

      Hi Donna! I don’t mind at all! I’m honored that you’d like to. Of course, I do appreciate a link back to this post. 🙂

      What great timing that you just watched those TED talks. I’m a little obsessed with Brene. Around my house you’d regularly hear my husband or me saying, “What would Brene say about this?” 🙂 🙂

      Your blog is beautiful, and I’m glad we’ve connected! I LOVE Mac lipstick, amaretto gelato, babies, pinterest, and pretty much everything else you listed on your about page. Haha. Anyway, you have a great week! Keep in touch!

      • Donna
        August 5, 2014 at 3:20 pm

        Thanks so much, Erica! I’m working on the post right now and I’ll definitely link back to your post.:)
        I actually discovered your blog thanks to Pinterest! I pinned your “12 Must-See TED Talks for Purposeful Women” post and I’m currently working my way through your list. Thanks so much for sharing!
        Thanks for checking out my blog. I’m glad you like it and it’s amazing that you love all the things I listed on my ‘about me’ page.
        Hope you have a productive week!

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  • Donna
    August 6, 2014 at 11:00 pm

    Hi Erica!

    Just letting you know I just posted.:) Feel free to check it out. Thanks for the inspiration! I admire your honestly, authenticity and courage.

  • Donna
    August 6, 2014 at 11:02 pm

    I forgot to mention. I shared your post with a few of my friends from church this evening.:) I just couldn’t keep it to myself!

  • Denise
    October 5, 2015 at 3:59 pm

    Such a brave and important post! Like you, I feel like my sense of self-worth is generally pretty high, but there are definitely certain triggers that let the shame creep in. For me, it’s wrapped up in my lack of formal education. Although I’m smart, articulate and very well-read, I didn’t go to college. (In fact, I didn’t finish high school and later got a GED.) Despite this, I’ve had a wonderful and full life! Every time I think I’ve gotten past the shame associated with my “not-enoughness”, it rears its ugly head. I clearly still have work to do, and it’s honest posts like this one that help me find the courage to drag those shame gremlins into the light. They hate that. 🙂

    • Erica Layne
      October 5, 2015 at 7:57 pm

      Shame gremlins. 🙂 🙂 Someone knows her Brené!

      What a beautiful comment this was. Thanks so much for it. It really made me pause today – and I appreciated that. Best wishes!

  • Evanthia
    October 7, 2015 at 1:13 pm

    I can completely relate to that feeling of not being extraordinary enough. We all have big dreams growing up, but we’re forced to make changes along the way: this or that, not both. Now, I feel myself reassessing some of my goals and considering whether I might ever be able to attain them…to be a little more extraordinary, perhaps. Great post, Erica!

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