Fear & Shame Busting: The Outsized Impact on Change

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Surfacing emotions that we never knew were holding us back is a disruptive experience. It is much easier to numb ourselves to them, and when we do, it becomes impossible to understand their influence on our lives.  

Fear and shame were mine.

I lived in fear of anyone hearing or seeing my stutter, and I buried the shame when they did. 

It wasn’t fear and shame until I started speech therapy in my late twenties. It was just a fog-like state that I accepted as part of growing up with stuttering. I wish I had addressed it sooner in life. 

But, I didn’t, and here is how I did. Busting fear and shame, believe it or not, is an acquired skill that takes consistency and practice to master. 

The 5 Step Process:

  • Identify what you fear and what creates shame
  • Make two hierarchical lists ordered in LowMedium, and High
  • Do things from up and down the hierarchies 
  • Revere your progress
  • Re-order your lists and start again

How did I identify what I feared and that resulted in shame? I kept an index card with me for a few weeks and noted what I avoided or was simply just hard for me to do. Past experiences in specific moments of stuttering conditioned my behavioral reactions to them, which is true for any situation that creates an emotional response. 

How did I determine how to order my lists? Medium was the grey area. After a few weeks, the lines blurred so much that they didn’t matter. Why make a hierarchy then? To get you to take action. The value is in starting with low fear or shame to build momentum before tackling the higher levels. Eventually, I only noted those ranked as high because the lower levels had become just normal every day experiences. 

How did I ensure I was challenged by the different levels? I obsessed over keeping track of each time I did something that was noted on my lists, and the corresponding result. Little did I know that this was how I would start journaling. I wrote down at least three things I did each day, which held me accountable and helped track my progress. 

Why is it important to revere your progress? It helps you trust the process. Facing fear and shame is hard enough, but feeling and seeing how far you’ve come adds a certain degree of self-confidence to propel you up the rest of your hierarchies. How did I do this? I would read over my journal entries and I kept a handwritten sketch of each hierarchy that I updated when things moved to different levels. It motivated me to stay the course when I physically moved the highs to the lows. 

How did I stay the course of busting fear and shame? I regularly re-ordered my lists and started again. An obstacle I experienced was that most of the opportunities in my daily routine sat atop my hierarchies. This was both an indicator of progress and a need to be intentional about offsetting this reality with things from the lower levels.

To reinforce the process, here is an example of my combined hierarchy of fear and shame as it pertained to my experience of stuttering when I started the process. 


  • Saying my name (the hardest thing to do for we who stutter)
  • Using the phone, including making calls, video teleconferences, and leaving voicemails
  • Job interviews
  • Group social outings
  • Meetings at work
  • Self-disclosing as a person who stutters
  • All public speaking


  • All social interactions with people who knew me, including family, friends, colleagues, and acquaintances


  • One-on-one conversations with people who didn’t judge my stutter

It was easy to become discouraged, yet to see this list somehow inspired me to take action. There were no failures, though, only opportunities to recalibrate my definition of success before I tried again. Change revealed itself in the showing up to each opportunity. 

Repetitions mattered most in conjunction with having reverence for the risks I took and the progress I made. Do, reflect, then iterate. As I wrote in Cultivating Social Skills, it was about an eight-year journey to flattening my fear and shame hierarchies.

Flattening is the outcome of busting through fear and shame to where everything I do now is just what I do. Feel the fear and shame yet go forward into it to experience what actually happens rather than be debilitated by imagined outcomes. This skill has had an outsized impact on how I navigate change. 

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