The Power of A Story: How to Build Shame Resilience

“Shame derives its power from being unspeakable. That’s why it loves perfectionists – it’s so easy to keep us quiet. If we cultivate enough awareness about shame to name it and speak to it, we’ve basically cut it off at the knees. Shame hates having words wrapped around it. If we speak shame, it begins to wither. Just the way exposure to light was deadly for gremlins, language and story bring light to shame and destroy it. “ – Daring Greatly be Brene Brown


Yesterday I was given the opportunity to speak to an amazing group in Vancouver; The Twenty Ten Group. Invited by my good friend, fellow ultra marathoner and adventure seeker Graham Snowden.  One of my opening snippets of any presentation or talk always starts with the importance of telling one’s story. Telling our story can be a very powerful and profound thing. It can connect. It can inspire and it can heal. When telling my own story of triumph over adversity I am always reminded by Brene Brown’s work in vulnerability and more importantly “resilience tool” called “Gremlin Ninja Warrior Training.” I wanted to share a few of my thoughts on telling ones story of challenge, adversity and the long road to understanding and healing.  It all starts with shame vs guilt.


Shame is something we all have, but don’t want to talk about. It’s that little voice in the back of your head that tells you no, or can’t, or don’t. Shame is lethal.  Brene Brown’s distinction between shame and guilt is equivalent to an epiphany. Understanding the distinction between the two can make or break your resilience to fear and achieving greatness. It boils down to our self-talk.

Shame = “I am bad”

Guilt is “I did something bad.”

Brown’s Gremlin Ninja Warrior Training offers real and raw guidelines, with a step by step approach towards better understanding this human paradox, while at the same time building shame resilience.

Gremlin Ninja Warrior Training

We all have feelings of in-adequacy or failure from time to time, but without this there would be no feelings of success, joy and elation. There would be no evolution. The human race would become stagnant.  It is through our mistakes, we learn the path of righteousness and experience what it feels like to get back up and stand tall after being knocked over by life’s unpredictability’s and nuances.

Each of us at some point has come face to face with our enemy or have come to face to face with what hinders us, and in doing so we must prepare effectively to properly manage the situation and come out victorious. This is no easy feat and most often we are unprepared and wind up stumbling around in the dark searching for strategies.

In the book Daring Greatly, Brown uses the metaphors of masks and armor as examples of how we have learned to build walls in self-protection against the dark arts of discomfort of vulnerability, and a world where scarcity, fear, criticism, shame and never enough dominate our very existence.  Yet, we must contend that we cannot live an authentic and wholehearted life without removing the armor and letting go, so that we can let in.

That’s the thing about walls. We may protect ourselves from the outside, but we also shut ourselves, opportunities and people out as well.  Viking (fight) or victim (flight), are not viable options for dealing with vulnerability.  She offers practical daring greatly strategies to help us embrace vulnerability and courage; using the way of the warrior or the Ninja as opportunities to fear and shame resilience.

The Way of the Warrior and the Ninja: Combat Warfare

Ninja: The historical accounts of the Ninja are scarce, yet the early 15th century holds glimpses of emerging “spies” whose functions were espionage, sabotage, infiltration and assassination and open combat with a high degree of honor and valor.

Warrior: A warrior can be defined as a person skilled in combat and warfare.

Gremlin: a mythological creature commonly depicted as a mischievous creature who sabotages or dismantles.

What do all of these things have in common?

They have duality. They have a Ying side; where they act in accordance with their values; which are integrity, honor, discipline and trust in the system. Yet, they also have a Yang side; when we connect these definitions we can see that there is an opportunity for not construction of greatness, but de construction as well. Each one has a quality of sabotage and when it comes to fear, shame and guilt the mind has an amazing ability to mask these as “protectors.”

“You don’t have to do that, let someone else.”

“Why do you fix, what ain’t broken.”

warrior understands that most often the greatest enemy, or foe, we face, is usually ourselves. As humans we have a propensity to self-sabotage our best efforts through a masked villain called fear. This fear can be veiled in emotions like anger, dis trust, sadness, helplessness, bitterness, shame and guilt, but they all stem from one word, and that’s fear.

The ability to own and engaged with our vulnerability determines the depth of our courage and the clarity of our purpose; the level to which we protect ourselves from being vulnerable is a measure of our own fear, resistance and disconnection. Humans are not perfect. Humans are imperfect, and that is what makes us authentic. Vulnerability is at the heart of being authentic.


Ask yourself these questions:

  • What drives our fear of being vulnerable?
  • How do you protect yourself from vulnerability?
  • What meaning do you place on the word “protection”?
  • What do you gain or lose when you build up walls and disengage for fear of failure?
  • How could you own and engage with your vulnerability/ your gremlins, so you can start transforming the way you live, love and bring about change?
  • Are you a leader in your own life? If not why?

Brown dares us to have the courage to be vulnerable, to show up and be seen, to ask for what we need, to talk about our feelings and have the hard conversations. She asks us to tell our own personal story of both trials and tribulations in an effort to live a life of courage and authenticity.  As the book cover articulates it is about transforming the way we live, love, parent, teach, and lead.

About the Author: Sarah Jamieson

Sarah Jamieson has written 155 posts on this site.

Sarah is the owner and head movement coach at Moveolution; a Vancouver based consulting company focused on the integration of movement and recovery science. Bridging the gaps between the clinical and performance fields Sarah’s passion stems from lifelong passion of Yoga, Jujitsu, and Qi Gong; which she integrates into her coaching practice. She is a full time social change maker, a ‘run-a-muker’ of everything outdoors and repeatedly engages in random acts of compassion.

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