The relevance of shame and the effects of shame are impactful regardless of the type of coaching you do. On the surface, it may not seem applicable to some coaching but once you recognize it, the connection becomes clear. Shame can influence a wide arc of thought and behavior patterns, and everyone has a degree of shame. Because no one is immune, the goal is not to avoid shame but rather to become shame resilient.

Properly recognizing and coaching on shame is therefore highly valued. As coaches of excellence, we all want to help the whole person whenever possible. But how do you address shame in a healthy manner and in fitting in with your coaching? In this episode, marriage and family therapist Aimée Gianni and I discuss this topic, answer these questions, and give you several tips for recognizing shame.

What You’ll Learn

Is shame outside the realm of qualification for some coaches?

The differences between shame and guilt

  • I am versus I did
  • Indicator phrases and behaviors
  • The two types of guilt: Useful and useless

Things that promote shame

  • Secrecy and silence
  • Judgment

You are the safe place for your clients

  • Warmth with no judgment and proper neutrality
  • Space to give voice to shame and guilt

Recognizing disconnections from shame

  • Distancing or hiding
  • People pleasing
  • Fighting back or aggression

Shame resilience

  • Compassion and compassionate honesty as motivators for change
  • Courage without perfection
  • Connection through appropriate vulnerability

Contact Info and Recommended Resources

Connect with Aimée C. Gianni, M.S.

Aimée Gianni is a seasoned marriage and family therapist, with over 20 years’ experience. She’s a Master Coach Instructor, co-founded The Coaching Collective with Molly Claire, and together, they’ve also created Advanced Relationship Training for Certified Coaches.

Connect with Molly Claire


Welcome to the Masterful Coach Podcast with Molly Claire where coaches learn skill mastery, business mastery and Life Mastery at a whole new level. If you’re ready to create a meaningful coaching business that makes a difference, you’re in the right place. And now your host master coach instructor, Molly Claire.

Molly Claire: Hey coach, you are not going to want to miss this episode. We are talking about how to coach on shame, how to recognize it, and so many great tips for you. I’ve got Aimee Gianni coming on with me today. Aimee is a master coach, master coach instructor, Marriage and Family Therapist of over 20 years, my business partner in the Coaching Collective and she happens to be my sister as well.

Aimee and I are going to be talking about this topic. Coaching on shame is something that she taught a masterclass on in the collective last month, and we wanted to share some highlights with you here on the podcast.

Speaking of master classes, before we dive into this interview episode, make sure that you are signed up for our August monthly mastery. This is a free class that we teach every month, and the date and topic varies this month in particular; it’s coming up next week. So go to our website, and sign up for our free monthly mastery. I am going to be teaching you all about how to never doubt your coaching skills again. So this is the topic I know it’s a big topic for a lot of coaches at all levels. So come and join us there.

But for now, without further ado, here is my interview with Aimee Gianni. Hey, everyone. All right, we are so excited to be here with you. I’ve got Aimee Gianni on the podcast again today. Hello, Aimee.

Aimee Gianni: Hi. Thanks for having me.

Molly Claire: It’s so funny because Aimee and I talk all the time, of course, you know by now that we run the Coaching Collective together and we’re sisters, and so we talk all the time, and now we’re just talking with a recording going right?

Aimee Gianni: Yeah, that’s right.

Molly Claire: But I wanted to bring Aimee on because of course she did this masterclass for the collective last month, and we wanted to talk about it because Aimee and I work with coaches on improving their coaching skills and really handling anything that comes at them. Shame is something that comes up, right Aimee?

Aimee Gianni: Yes, all the time.

Molly Claire: No matter what. So we’re going to dive into some good ideas and conversation here. One thing I think that would be an important place to start is I know some of you listening may wonder if shame really fits in with whatever your business is. Maybe you help people with financial goals, or you’re helping people with all kinds of things. Like our clients are helping people in their personal life, business, weight and health. But no matter what, this is totally relevant. So, Aimee, what’s your take on that? Why do you think it’s important that people learn about how to understand shame, or how to recognize it with their clients?

Aimee Gianni: Yeah, because everybody has shame. So no matter whom you’re coaching, and no matter what their issues are, shame is bound to come up. Because the only people that don’t have shame are sociopaths, right? And sociopaths usually don’t reach out for coaching; I haven’t had any so far. So that means all your clients are going to experience shame at some level. So we can’t avoid shame. It’s just part of our mortal experience, and the idea isn’t to avoid shame, but rather to become shame resilient. So the more that you can understand shame; what it looks like, how to help your clients be shame resilient, the better you’re going to be as a coach.

Molly Claire: Yeah, I love that. And I think that as you were talking about it, I think sometimes the word shame can kind of create a little bit of fear in coaches that are feeling like; is shame outside of the realm of things. In fact, I remember as we were getting ready to prepare for this class, we had some comments on Facebook, where some therapists were concerned about us going into an area that we weren’t qualified for, right?

Aimee Gianni: Yeah.

Molly Claire: So speak a little bit to that; is shame something that we should be afraid of as coaches or?

Aimee Gianni: No, absolutely not! Because like I said, shame comes up for everybody. Now, I think one thing, people that deal with trauma, there’s going to be a lot of shame around trauma, and so I think sometimes people automatically associate shame and trauma. It may be that if you’re working with a client that’s had a lot of trauma that they need to work with a therapist that specializes in that. But that’s not the only place that shame comes up. Shame comes up for everybody.

Molly Claire: Yeah, it certainly comes up for me. I think anyone who’s self aware enough to pay attention to their feelings and gets coaching, we’ve all experienced it. So yeah, and I love that you brought that up, Aimee, and for those of you that may have missed it, a few episodes ago I interviewed Jen Taylor, who is a trauma therapist who had come to our Coaching Collective Mastermind, and she’s great. So definitely, if you’re wanting to know more about the trauma and how it fits in, go back to that episode. But right now, let’s talk about this.

So sometimes I think we hear the term shame and guilt interchangeably. But there really is a difference between them. Let’s talk about it a little, Aimee.

Aimee Gianni: Yeah, absolutely, and I want to preface what I’m going to say by crediting Brene Brown, a lot of what I’ve learned about shame has come from Brene Brown, and also Koren Motekaitis. She works on shame. She’s a coach, who focuses specifically on shame and does great work there, and has been trained by Brene Brown. So that’s where I’ve learned a lot of these concepts as I’ve incorporated them into my practice. But yeah, Brene teaches us that shame is I am bad. Whereas guilt or remorse, I like to think of it more remorse, but remorse and guilt is I did something bad.

So shame really gets at our identity. We think that bad is who we are. Whereas guilt or remorse is thinking that we just did something that was bad, but it’s outside of us. So it doesn’t define us. That’s really the difference. And shame stops our progression whereas guilt or remorse can actually move us forward, and it can help us see things that we want to change so that we can improve and progress. So when you’re working with clients, it’s important to notice if they’re identifying as bad or broken or unlovable. It’s part of their identity. That’s how you know they are dealing with shame.

Molly Claire: Yeah, I think that just for coaches listening right now, you can probably think about some of those sentences you’ve heard from your clients or some of those thoughts you recognize in yourself, right? Anything along the lines of like, something’s wrong with me. I think that’s a huge one when we think like, I’m wrong, something’s wrong with me. I’m broken and all those kinds of things.

Aimee Gianni: Yeah, and that’s how it’s going to show up in your sessions. That’s how you’re going to recognize it because it sounds like I’m just never good enough. I’m the only one that’s dealing with this. I’m alone. I’m not worthy. I’m not lovable. If people really knew me, they wouldn’t love me. That’s how it’s going to present in your sessions when you’re coaching somebody, right?

Molly Claire: Yes totally. Yeah, and I want to keep going on this track. But I’m going to put a pause and take a little bit of a detour; I want to back up just for a minute. Because on the topic of shame and guilt, as Aimee was saying, like guilt can actually help us move forward and I think it’s also important as coaches to remember, I like to think of guilt as two different kinds of guilt. I see useless guilt and useful guilt, and I don’t know about you, Aimee. But I know with my clients, most of the guilt that my clients feel is actually useless guilt.

Because it stings like, I should be doing more, I didn’t do enough, I shouldn’t have done that right, where it’s all this like beating ourselves up kind of thing. I wanted to just pause for a minute on that. Because those of you listening, I don’t want you to necessarily think oh, guilt is always a good thing and if this feeling is not leading somewhere positive, it must be shame, right? So we can have the shame is I am bad, right? Something is wrong with me or all those things Aimee said, and then we can also feel guilt, like I did something wrong. But it can take a couple different flavours. So if your client is feeling guilt, help them pay attention to is this guilt actually moving me forward? Or is this just really this swirl in my brain that I use to just beat myself up and keep me down, right?

Aimee Gianni: Yeah, absolutely.

Molly Claire: Yeah. Okay, so going back to what shame sounds like I love all of those examples you gave Aimee. And one thing that Aimee I think you talked about in the masterclass you taught for the collective was this idea that there are certain things that promote shame, which I think is so important to look at?

Aimee Gianni: There are many things that promote shame, and so some of them we’ll talk about that shame needs certain things to grow, because shame exists in the dark. So one thing is secrecy; secrecy really helps shame grow. It’s this thinking that you need to hide, keeping it a secret being silenced. So don’t tell anybody, right? It’s just keeping all of this within and then judgment. So when you have secrecy and silence and judgment, those three things really promote shame. And with judgment, it’s judging yourself and then thinking that everybody else is going to know how terrible I am because I am so terrible because I am bad, right?

Molly Claire: Yes, totally.

Aimee Gianni: So that’s how shame tries to stay alive because it tells us those lies that we need to be secretive and stay silent, and then all of the judgment.

Molly Claire: Yeah, and so I think I guess these are good things really to look for in your clients, and I know, Aimee, your work outside of the collective you work with relationships. But I do think all of these things come up in all kinds of clients, because of course, Aimee, you and I have worked with coaches and clients that focus on all kinds of things. So we focused on everything about coaching. And so I don’t know that there is a person or an area of progress that we’re working on with people where this stuff wouldn’t come up, right?

Aimee Gianni: Yep. Absolutely!

Molly Claire: Yeah, and I also think that, definitely, I know, in my experience, and you coaches listening will notice this also, some of your clients will go to shame more often than others. And that’s where it’s good to look at these things that Aimee’s talking about; the Secrecy, the silence, the judgment; just to help you notice and help them to be able to untangle it. I know, I had a client who went very often to shame it was like one of those go to for her, and we really just put a light on the fact that it was there, and we just made space for it and removed the judgment from the feeling of shame, and really gave her a chance to almost have more power over it.

Aimee Gianni: Yeah, as a coach, you’ve probably had this experience where the client comes in, they’ll say, maybe you’ll meet with them for a while, maybe it’s been like, even a couple of months and they’ll finally say, ‘I’ve never told anybody this. But…’ And then they tell you the thing whatever that is, and it’s them being finally willing to shine the light on whatever is going on, and come out of the secrecy, come out of the silence and we talk a lot about holding space with our clients, and that’s why holding space, non judgmental neutral space is so important, because we want our clients to be able to come out of hiding, whatever it is, and bring it to the session, and know that there’s no judgment there. So it is a safe place to shine the light on it and help them move through it.

Molly Claire: Yes. Oh my Gosh, okay. So that made me think of a couple things that I want to first, all of you listening, all of you coaches, take a minute to recognize that you truly are the safe place for so many people. I think sometimes we can get so caught up in what we’re supposed to do as a coach and how we’re a good coach and all of these things as if we’re supposed to say some magical thing when we’re on with our client. People tell me the things that they haven’t told anyone else. I have more information about my clients than anyone else in their life. And so really take a minute to just remember that you’re really providing something so powerful for your clients in giving them that space.

And the other thing that you made me think of Aimee is that we talk a lot about these ideas of neutrality, as some people like to call it. Some people hate the word neutral in a coaching space, some people love it. But this idea either way that we have this space that we hold for our clients that does not have judgment. And so I think that, and I’m kind of getting off on a little bit of a tangent here, because this is something we’ve talked a lot about with our coaches who fear that holding a neutral space is kind of this cold icy tundra, like a first time place, but this is really what it is. It’s really withholding all judgment so you can create the same warm space, that is a space of neutrality, and that I’m not here to judge you, to criticize you, or to add to your emotion or take away from your emotion.

Aimee Gianni: Yeah, and as you were saying that I was thinking about loving neutrality, like a state of loving because it is neutral. And when we say neutral, meaning like, there’s just no judgment, like you said, but we can still love our clients so much. And I always think about that, how important it is for us to have love and compassion for our clients. But that doesn’t mean that we have to believe their story because that’s not going to help them but just showing up in a loving way while you’re holding neutral space for them is so powerful, and simply the space for them. I just want to highlight this you said this, but just the space for them to say things out loud, chances are they don’t have any other place in their life where they can say some of these things out loud, and just that process alone is so meaningful to people.

Molly Claire: Totally. Yes, and I think that, Aimee, you were talking about loving neutrality, and I was also thinking about the word sensitive. Having the sensitivity to what our client may need in any given moment around neutrality. So how do we create this space of neutrality where our client has total power? And do it in a way where we’re sensitive to our client’s needs, sensitive to our client’s personality, whatever that is. So there really is such an art to holding that neutral space in a warm way. 

Aimee Gianni: Yeah. And it really comes down to really knowing your client, the more you work with them, the more you’re going to know them, you’re going to understand what they’ve been through some of their triggers. And you’re going to know and be able to read them, and know how to provide that space for them. 

Molly Claire: Yes, totally. So let’s talk a little about one of the things that you also talked about in that Master Class Aimee, which are these ways we disconnect from shame. And I know for me, like, when I’ve done coaching, and I find that feeling of shame, it’s like, what I start doing is I just start resisting it. I’m like, I can’t even tolerate that. And so it’s normal to want to get away from shame. But there are these certain reactions that you’ve talked about. I’d love for you to share them.

Aimee Gianni: Yeah. So I think the one that we’re most familiar with, we talk about all the time is hiding or withdrawing. When we feel shame, we want to hide, and that comes up all the time. But it’s not the only way that people react to shame. And so I want to talk about the other two, one, that people are usually really surprised by this, but it’s people pleasing. Usually people don’t associate pleasing people with shame.

But it is one way that people react to shame, in a way of trying to disconnect from shame. They started pleasing people. So that’s the second one. And the third one is just being aggressive with yourself or with others. So it’s kind of like fighting back, right? So you’re having this shame. And then you just start beating yourself up or you get really aggressive with other people and start ‘beating others up’. Those are the three reactions that we use to disconnect from shame. 

Molly Claire: Yeah, and I think when we talked about this at our live advanced relationship, Coach training, I think it was just such a helpful thing for our coaches to be aware of, as they’re working in relationships and seeing, gosh, like helping their clients recognize these actions, and then making that connection to what that’s really about. 

Aimee Gianni: Yeah, because again, it just helps you be that much more efficient because now when you see a client, people pleasing your brain can go to oh, okay, is there shame here? It’s going to be like a red flag for you, something for you to watch for. So you know where to go with them.

Molly Claire: Absolutely. Okay, let’s talk about shame resilience, we hear a lot about it. How do we actually help our clients become shame resilient? It sounds like a great idea. But like, what is the how behind it?

Aimee Gianni: Yeah. And I want to just reiterate that, we can’t get to where we’re shame resistant. You mentioned like, when you feel shame, you want to resist it, right? We’re never going to be able to avoid shame, or get out of shame, meaning like, never experience it. And so it is really about shame resilience, we can be resilient. So what that means is we can experience shame, and we move through it and we move on, like, we survive, we fall down, but we get back up. And that’s what we want to help our clients with. 

Molly Claire: Yeah, I mean, I think that’s such a good point. I want to like, interrupt and just pause you for a minute, because I think that’s such an important distinction. Because I think sometimes we think, oh, shame resilient means I can do something so I won’t ever feel shame anymore. I think a lot of people think that about it. Ye

Aimee Gianni: Yeah. And that’s not it. Shame resilience is being able to experience shame, move through it and move forward. So the first thing that I talked about, as far as being shame resilient and you can help your clients with this right is compassion. And we were just talking about compassion because that’s really what holding space is. I feel like the most compassionate thing we can do for our clients is to hold neutral and loving space for them. But the research shows that compassion is the biggest motivator for change. So think about that for a minute. Compassion is the biggest motivator for change. Oftentimes, we think that beating ourselves up is what will motivate us to change, but it’s not true. It’s compassion that actually moves you forward. 

As coaches, you know this because we’ll talk about the example of weight loss, people think, oh, I’m going to lose weight. So I’m just going to hate myself skinny, right? I’m just going to, like, hate my body. And if I hate it bad enough, it’s going to motivate me to go to the gym and to eat healthy, but that never ever works. It’s about loving your body exactly where you are. And then you want to go to the gym and you want to eat healthy. So I think that’s a good example there of compassion being the biggest motivator for change. So you want to look at helping your clients increase their compassion for themselves. I always talk to my clients about holding space for themselves, just being a compassionate observer, observing their brain and not judging it. So you want to think about ways that you can do that with your clients. How can you help them have more compassion for themselves? 

Molly Claire: Yeah, I love that you brought that up. It’s so funny. It made me think of our training, where the coach that was there said that at first, she wasn’t sure if she wanted to work with you and I in The Collective because she said she was talking with someone on our team. And she said, “Yeah, I’ve heard them. They seem too nice to be effective.” And that member of our team said, “No, you should hear them on coaching.” And I said, “Oh, no, what does that mean?” She said, “No, no, she didn’t mean that you were unkind.”

But that effectiveness, like sometimes we think that it needs to be harsh, like to make change. And also I think we confuse compassion with coddling. And so we think they are these two extremes, we’re, like, very aggressive and harsh and we like to push ourselves to change, or we coddle and we’re like, oh, it’s okay. Like, we’ll just be complacent. So I think that’s such an important thing to highlight too, that compassion is truly the best motivator of change. And so that’s what we really need to give to ourselves and our clients. 

Aimee Gianni: Yes. And as you were saying that, the phrase that came to my mind was compassionate honesty, because you don’t have to be harsh. Not everybody likes a different style of coaching. So there’s all individual differences as far as that goes. But I think in order to be effective, at least my belief is I want to be compassionate with my clients. And I want to be honest with my clients, because it’s that honesty that’s going to bring things to light so that they can see it in themselves. And then they have the option of if they want to change it or not.It’s that beautiful combination of compassionate honesty, I think.

Molly Claire: Yeah. And I think when you talk about being honest with our clients, that’s really what breeds trust, don’t you think?

Aimee Gianni: Yes, because you don’t want a coach that’s just going to be like, “Oh, yeah, you’re so great.” You’re like, “Okay, well, that doesn’t help me.”

Molly Claire: Yeah, like, tell me what’s really happening here. Yeah, we want to bring that. Compassionate honesty is really the thing. That’s how you’re going to, first of all, be able to actually help your clients and have them believe and feel and see you as someone that they can trust. 

Aimee Gianni: Yeah, because I think when we deliver honesty harshly, some people receive it. And that’s great. But a lot of people shut down and get defensive. And so anyway, that’s why my personal style is a little bit more compassionate. Because I think, when I add that in, my clients are less likely to be defensive, they’re more likely to take in what I’m offering them, what I’m sharing with them, my honesty point.

Molly Claire: Absolutely. And I think also, I know that this has been true for me, and I’ve heard this from my clients. I’m sure you have Aimee as well, as a coach, you play such an important role in your clients lives that you kind of become the voice in their head. And so, what kind of voice are you? I want to be a good voice in their head. I want to be a voice in their head that’s contributing to some positive self-talk, like positive honesty and compassion and all of that, but not another, like, mean girl voice in their head.

Aimee Gianni: Yes, exactly.

Molly Claire: Yeah. Okay, so we’ve got compassion. What’s the next one? 

Aimee Gianni: Okay. So the next thing that I talked about is courage. This is another thing that will help you be resilient. So you want to help your clients develop courage, you need courage to show up in your life and be vulnerable and to trust yourself, even when you’re imperfect, because the idea is not that we become perfect, but it’s that we’re able to be courageous and show up as our imperfect selves and be okay with that.

So taking a look at where you can help your clients trust themselves, go forward with wanting what they want, even identifying what they want, letting their needs and desires be known, that takes a lot of courage, asking for what they want, letting go of safe choices that hold them back. Those are some ways that you can help your clients be more courageous in their life. And when they have that courage, they will be more shame resilient. 

Molly Claire: Yeah. I love it. And it’s so funny, as you’re saying that like courage, it sounds like such a great word. It sounds so brave. But courage takes the willingness to also feel some kind of hard and negative emotions, doesn’t it? What about the third one?

Aimee Gianni: The third one is connection. And this is why vulnerability matters, because vulnerability is the key to connection. Again, this is Brene Brown teaching. And connection increases shame resilience. So you want to help your clients connect with themselves and also connect with others because a lot of times clients are very disconnected from themselves, they’re not compassionate at all to themselves. And so the compassion and the courage kind of sets the foundation for this, for them to really connect with themselves, and then reaching out and being vulnerable and connecting with those around them. And we talked a lot about this at the advanced relationship training, we’re wired for connection, it is in our DNA, it is part of survival for us to connect with other people, and everybody has different levels of how much connection they want, or what connection means to them. But we all have that desire to connect. 

Connection helps us with shame resilience. And so some of what that looks like, we were talking earlier about secrecy and all of that, when you can be vulnerable enough to share some of the things that you feel shame about, share that with others, and have it met with compassion, that is powerful, that helps you become shame resilient. It doesn’t mean that you just run around telling your story to everybody on the street, but you share your story with those who have earned the right to hear it. When you can share that with other people, you’re vulnerable, and it’s not with compassion, and it’s healing. 

Molly Claire: Yeah. And I’ve been reading so much more about this. And I think that sometimes, especially as coaches, who we want to manage our mind, we want to manage our emotions, we want to create our life, we’re very, just by nature, I think we’re people who want to like to take charge of our life. And sometimes I think that we can mistakenly think that we could or should kind of do everything by ourselves. And I know, I’ve been seeing this more and more for me, like the value and being willing and able to kind of open up to others and rely on other people and really have those connections and relationships, because we’re not islands. We’re our own entity separate from everyone else around us. 

Aimee Gianni: Yeah. Although it’s tempting, right? 

Molly Claire: Oh, yeah. 

Aimee Gianni: It’s tempting, because in a lot of ways, it just feels so much safer. Like, I’m just going to be over here, I’m just going to, like take care of myself, not relying on anybody else. And again, this is another thing we talked a lot about at the advanced relationship training, the vulnerability it requires to let go of some of that and connect. 

Molly Claire: I know, same thing, like my brain keeps going to this training that we did, because we talk so much about this, and how sometimes some of the cognitive coaching tools we use if misused and used in a way where we’re just trying to like, gain control of our feelings that we actually miss out on using those tools for greater connection in our relationships. All right, well, hopefully, this has been helpful for you listening. I know all of you work with all kinds of different clients in your coaching practice, but no matter what, certainly this will come up with your clients. So take this in. Just take one small thing with this and see how you can put it to use in your practice. Aimee thanks so much for being here. 

Aimee Gianni: Yeah. Thanks for having me. It’s always super fun. 

Molly Claire: So fun. All right, I’ll catch you guys on the next episode. Thanks everyone. 

Aimee Gianni: Bye.

Molly Claire: Bye.

Thanks for listening to The Masterful Coach Podcast, you can check out www.thecoachingcollective.comfor info about the ultimate program for coaches building a business. To find out more about Molly, you can