Shame in Veterinary Medicine

guilty looking puppy

What’s on my mind: Shame is pervasive in veterinary medicine.

Our clients shame us, we shame them, we shame each other. I think we don’t even realize what we’re doing half the time and how much we’re hurting each other.

At the heart of defining someone as a “good vet” or a “bad vet”, a “good pet owner” or a “bad pet owner” is the idea and implication that some of just aren’t and can’t become enough.

I think a lot of what we call compassion fatigue is really shame fatigue. When we care for others around us, and still don’t feel “good enough”, it’s hard to have the energy to keep caring.

It’s a vicious cycle. We feel constantly judged by a colleagues and clients, so we judge them in return. There’s a part of many of us that feels “not good enough”, especially when we just can’t get our message across or when we lose a life despite our best efforts.

Shaming is different from setting boundaries. We can consider a lack of housebreaking unacceptable without hitting a dog with a newspaper. Someone can make mistakes that lead to them losing their license or their pet but still be worthy of love.

What’s got me thinking about all this? A friend who has created an whimsical habit building website called recommended Brene Brown’s life changing work: Daring Greatly, Gifts of Imperfection, and I Thought It Was Just Me (But it isn’t).

Brene Brown is famous for her work on shame and vulnerability and how building shame resilience helps us life more wholehearted, joyful lives. For a taste, check out her TED talk The Power of Vulnerability.

Luckily, as Brene shows us, there’s a prescription for what ails us.

We can be vulnerable enough to admit that we’re scared, that no matter how many hours we work, we will never be perfect, and neither will anybody else.

Our greatest goal can only be to grow and to help others grow.

When we admit this, we practice self-compassion and self-compassion creates a bigger space for compassion toward others. When we can show others compassion, we help them feel less shame & we create a safer and saner world.

Let’s take a lesson from animal behavior. Positive reinforcement works better than negative reinforcement. When we talk about “fear free practices”, let’s make sure we include ourselves and our clients too.

Have you ever felt shamed in a veterinary practice? Have you ever done the shaming? What would you have changed?

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