WHAT IS SHAME?!! The Root: “to cover, to veil, to hide”
Shame is the deep core belief that that one is not good enough or deserving, not worthy or lovable. Shame is a normal emotional response that all humans acquire in early development. However, the problems occur when shame or humiliation become integrated with one’s self-image or sense of worth. When we are bound by shame these feelings become a constant sense of self. We are also easily triggered by things like being overlooked or corrected.
To grow exponentially shame needs secrecy, silence & judgment. Sometimes the shame is so overwhelming that we are paralyzed by feelings of disconnection and unworthiness. Severe shame attacks can last days or weeks. When we grow up with deep feelings of shame it affects our sense of who we are, our intimacy with others and our self-esteem.
Attributes of Shame: Feeling badly about yourself, dissatisfaction over an alleged feeling of decrease in stature, disapproving of your actions or accomplishments, failure to meet your own standards, absence of self-love, feeling inferior, believing you are a bad person, loss of honor, blaming yourself for making a mistake, knowing you did wrong when you could have done right, not meeting your responsibility to yourself.
Indicators of Shame: Feeling like a fraud, powerless, too needy, too vulnerable, exposed, no voice, need to cover up, feeling foolish.
WHERE DOES IT COME FROM?
Early in life, individuals develop the view of themselves as adequate or inadequate in the world. Children are vulnerable to shame because they develop their identity based on their parents’ reactions to them. How we were treated by others growing up, is the way we internally treat ourselves. The experiences in which we were shamed as children become the unconscious triggers for feeling and expressing shame as adults.
Children who experience non-nurturing experiences such as being frequently criticized, punished, neglected, abandoned (emotional or physical), enmeshed or mistreated feel that they are inadequate, inferior or unworthy and don’t fit into the world. These feelings of inferiority are the birthplace of low self-esteem and the shamed sense of self and the lesson of shame is taken into your heart if the messages are repetitive and there is no opportunity to talk about the experiences.
Serial abandonment (emotional or physical) is a powerful teacher of shame. When a person experiences shame, they feel that there is something basically wrong with them. This is a common emotional response in children of alcoholics, depressed parents, abuse, strict religion, war, cultural oppression or adult or sibling death leading to feelings of helplessness, vulnerability & shame.
When low self-esteem is formed, one becomes hypersensitive and fearful in many situations. They are afraid they won’t do things right or know the rules, will misspeak or act inappropriately. They may perceive that others reject or are critical of them. They also experience “self-esteem attacks” having embarrassment or shame.
A failure of self-esteem is at the core of the shame-bound. When someone feels unimportant, has weak boundaries and a flawed sense of self, feeling good about yourself and your abilities is lost. “Shaming” a person makes them as low as they can go. A shamed person feels like there is nothing they can do to set things right and feels that something vague, but definite, has shrunk his soul.
THE EFFECTS OF SHAME:
The shame-bound person often has depression, which is that stuck place between anger and grief. A person with little self-worth does not know how to get angry b/c it would be too much aggression for someone raised up with a deprived sense of deserving respect. However, they also cannot grieve b/c it is too disappointing & painful to dare to believe they could genuinely be important to another or vice versa. Therefore the shame-bound person has difficulty with intimate relationships.
At the center of the depression is the sense of loss. The shame-bound person carries the greatest loss of all, the loss of a valued self. This loss is more difficult to overcome since someone is only partially aware of the dimension of their loss b/c they were deprived of the experience and model for respectful caring and nurturing. Shame always carries with it the sense that there is nothing one can do to purge its burdensome presence. Since one believes that shame cannot be remedied, it must be somehow endured, absorbed, minimized or denied.
The shame-bound person is controlling, rigid, and perfectionistic. They have to compensate for not feeling a sense of love. Shame comes from all “love” being conditional and the love is never complete. A person is never complimented on who he is, but as he pleases his parents by satisfying their expectations and demands. This causes him to put life in perfect order to compensate for the chaos in the relationships of his heart. In a loveless world, “doing things right” brings the only reward he can attain. This is a pattern that follows that person throughout their life.
WHAT YOU CAN DO:
- Allow yourself to learn that shame is not your fault.
- Face shame, experience it, incorporate it.
- Share your shame with those who understand.!
- Replace shame with mature guilt.
- Make new parents.
STRATEGIES TO OVERCOME SHAME:
• Positive self-talk – Talk to yourself like your best friend.
• Practice self-compassion – See yourself as a treasured and valuable person.
• Revisit your childhood – Use shame journal to discover where the shame patterns started.
• Recognize your triggers – Become aware of when shame attacks start and what caused it to happen.
• Challenge your thoughts – Do I still feel this way knowing what I now know.
• Don’t double-layer shame – Let yourself off the hook for having this shame attack and use it as a lightning rod to see what shame inside you it’s really pointing at.
• Avoid shame reinforcers – The people that consistently push your shame buttons or frequently trigger you.
• Accept love and kindness – When someone gives you love or kindness take a moment to take it into your heart and accept it.
• Self forgiveness – Don’t beat yourself up, but let yourself off the hook .
THE SHAME JOURNAL:
Whenever a shame attack occurs, that event can be used as a lightning rod that points directly to shame inside you that needs to be addressed. The shame journal is a powerful and effective tool to be used whenever something happens and you have a shame attack, which produces any of the following negative feelings: Out of balance, uncentered, discontent, sadness, dread, anger or rage, depression, etc.
Although it is very uncomfortable to explore these bad feelings and trace them back to their point of origin, if you are fearless and thorough you can heal your deeply rooted shame. But make no mistake about it; this is very difficult work. After talking to my sponsor and my shame research, here is a list of bullet points to be explored on each entry in the shame journal.
SHAME JOURNAL TOPICS:
1. The Incident – What happened?
2. My Reaction – What were my initial and extended physical & emotional reactions to this?
3. What it Brings Up – What are the thoughts that came as a result of this incident?
4. Underlying Fears and Beliefs – What are the fears and beliefs deep inside me that led to this shame attack?
5. Original Source – Did deep in my writing to find the original source of this shame – trace it back to similar feelings from my earliest memories of childhood.
6. How I Feel About it Now – How do I feel about it now that I have an understanding of shame and can now see it through my adult eyes?
7. Self-Compassion / Affirmations – Talk to myself on this entry and speak to myself like my dearest and closest best friend - with love & compassion.
Think of myself as a cherished and valuable person as I write this section to myself. Include positive affirmations in this section.