Apr 30, 2020   Melanin Magic

The Most Powerful Antidote to Shame and 4 Ways to Heighten Empathy

Author by : Sacha Sauvegon

How many times a day do you have a negative thought about yourself? If you're anything like me, probably too many to count.


Sometimes, they play on a loop like a tape recording through my head:

"You're not beautiful enough."
"Your belly sticks out too much."
"You don't deserve that."
"You can't do that."

Sound familiar? That right there is the voice of shame, and believe it or not, it doesn't belong to you.

You weren't born feeling ashamed and apologizing for being yourself.

You learned to do that by internalizing the criticisms leveled at you by others — starting with your parents. It may have been unintentional, but even the kindest and most loving parents shame their children. So, if you (like most of us) were unfortunate enough not to have the world's most perfect parents, it's likely that they heaped a good helping of shame on you. Later, criticism from teachers and teasing from your siblings or other kids at school taught you it was safer to dim your light, to stay small, to hide your "weirdness," and not to speak your truth.

Capitalism is built on shame. From a young age, commercials have taught us our "imperfections" can be corrected, and we will be loved and accepted if we buy their products. They use shame to manipulate people — especially women, but men are affected too — into believing there is something wrong with our skin, body, face, or personality. Something that needs to be fixed. Even our vaginas are not safe from shame, as the increasing demand for labiaplasty shows.

So, what is the antidote to shame? According to shame researcher Brené Brown, it's empathy.   Empathy means to feel someone's emotions with them, and it goes far beyond sympathy. Sympathy means to feel pity for someone, and it increases distance. Empathy, on the other hand, increases connection. And, surprisingly to some, the antidote to painful emotions such as shame is not found in words.

The most potent remedy is connection, and connection is created by empathy. Step outside yourself for a minute and see the world through someone else's eyes...

Lizzo has given millions of women across the world permission to overcome shame and love themselves unapologetically.

How? Through empathy. She knows what it feels like to be discriminated, judged, and even attacked for her physical appearance. She does not fit the widely accepted beauty ideal, but she defines herself as beautiful instead. She vulnerably shares about her struggles with self-hate on social media. And, in doing so, she lets others know they can do the same. Lizzo creates connection, not only between herself and her fans but also between all those of us who have ever struggled with body image issues. 

The world needs more empathy. If that wasn't clear enough before COVID-19 struck, then it should be now. We are all interconnected and equal in our human vulnerability — as the virus so mercilessly shows us. And we are all connected in the deep pain of shame.
But how can we increase our capacity for empathy?

While it is partly genetic, it is also possible to learn to be more empathetic.

Here are four ways you can increase empathy.



But really listen. Don't just wait for your turn to speak. Practice active listening by repeating the person's words back to them. This will make them feel heard and understood.



Talk to people outside your bubble. Get perspectives from people with different backgrounds, beliefs, and political ideas from yours. You will discover that you are not so different, after all.



Surprisingly, reading fiction can increase empathy. This is because it requires you to look at things from someone else's perspective. It also helps you to understand the lives of people who are different from you — thus increasing empathy.


Sharing your own, similar experiences can help someone feel that they are not alone in their suffering. This is the very definition of empathy, and it creates a powerful connection.

Empathy is the key to a more connected and more loving world, and it is up to each of us to play our role in creating it.

It may require uncomfortable conversations, but they will free us from old wounds and allow us to heal — opening the door for a deeper connection.

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