Shame in the rehabilitation and training context

A person’s movement is shaped by their history and experiences, their beliefs, their emotions, their sense of agency, identity and self efficacy. It is deeply, intimately personal to them, as it has been evolving with them all their lives.

It is uncomfortably easy when observing someone’s movement to inadvertently shame them, and extraordinary how many people have had their shame amplified as a result of their training or rehabilitation. Did you know that shame activates the same circuitry in the brain as pain?

Sometimes when assessing, training or coaching someone, we might eagerly share with them our observations as feedback, but in the language of dysfunction or lack. The words that you speak are about the behaviour of their body parts, but the words that they hear are about their inadequacies or failures. Sometimes an attempt to make light of those observations with what is intended to be a harmless joke triggers a profound unsuspected sense of shame in the person. I still acutely remember a key occasion about two decades ago where I made that mistake, and the shock of realising that I had unintentionally shamed someone dealt me a lesson that I have done my best to honour ever since.

In the training and rehab worlds, shaming, although mostly inadvertent, is going on all the time. Every time we hear “you should feel..”, “your knee should…” and so on, the way is opened for shame to creep in if that isn’t what the person is experiencing. Every time someone feels that doing it “right” is unattainable, or that others can do it while they can’t, shame is lurking in the corner.

We wouldn’t dream of commenting on someone’s appearance, yet we can be extraordinarily forthright about their movement. Wouldn’t it be amazing though, if we considered a person’s movement with equal respect, sensitivity and empathy? With awareness, we can all be more mindful of our communication and make changes that can be transformative.

Instead of people hearing all the things they don’t do well, what if they instead discovered the unexpected things they can do, the old solutions that they can thank their body for but which no longer serve them, and all the possibilities that lie ahead?

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