Turning Shame into Accountability

turning shame into accountability

Turning Shame into Accountability

By Megan Pardy January 17, 2024 01.17.2024 Share:
Accountability Reflection Shame Vulnerability

How do you relate to yourself when your humanity is showing? Do you defend yourself fervently and rationalize your choices? Do you criticize yourself and call yourself mean names? Spoiler alert: these two responses tend to be fueled by shame. Let’s look at how you could be turning shame into accountability.

Brené Brown suggests that “shame is that warm feeling that washes over us, making us feel small, flawed, and never good enough.”

Shame tends to be one of the most corrosive and uncomfortable feelings we have and no one is exempt. Shame causes us to feel alone unworthy and unredeemable. Shame takes us from a path of progress and self-work to a place of feeling stuck and unsure. Shame tells us that we ARE bad. Inversely, accountability tells us that WE DID something bad. The language differences are subtle, but the messages could not be more different.

Shame vs. Accountability 

Accountability allows us space to be uncomfortable and vulnerable with our mistakes, while still holding space for grace and understanding. The way that we think about our mistakes and areas of growth changes our ability to grow and evolve. I am going to use the example of messing up a baking recipe you’ve been wanting to try to show how differently shame and accountability sound.

Shame: “Man, I can’t believe I messed that up. I ruined everything and I can’t believe I was so stupid that I couldn’t follow a simple recipe. I’m just going to stick to what I know and never make anything new, since I’m just a screw-up.”

Accountability: “I’m pretty disappointed that it didn’t turn out like it should have. I can tell that I did several things right, but I have also learned what to do differently next time to improve it. I’m excited for the opportunity to try again.”

The main point is that we don’t ignore the fact that we did something wrong, we just reframe what the mistake means. This is turning shame into accountability.

Changing Your Mindset

I see this theme come up with most clients and couples that I work with and have found that changing our mindset from shame to accountability can be the biggest accomplishment in creating lasting change. In couples work, I often see the dynamic between shame and accountability in two different ways: the first is that since we often shame ourselves internally, when our partner tries to hold us accountable or share a feeling or need, we hear it as being told we are bad and it adds fuel to the fire of our internal shame. The second way I see it presented is that we become desensitized to shaming language within our self-talk and when we have the intent of holding our partner accountable, we end up presenting it through shaming our partner. This displays how shame can not only affect our relationship with ourselves but also our relationship with others.

Holding ourselves and the people in our lives accountable is vital, but shame is best left at the door. If you want to better understand how shame may be getting in your way and you want to change the narrative by turning shame into accountability, please reach out for support.


If you would like to discuss more with Megan, schedule your appointment today.

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