If you have ever experienced shame, you know exactly what it is.
You experience a moment of inadequacy, rejection, or failure, however big, however small, and shame hits you with a hot flush, a desire to disappear, and a deep, very intense feeling that there is something intrinsically wrong with you.
You feel, deep down, that you are unacceptable, unlovable. You feel shame, not because of what you did (that is a feeling of guilt), but because of who you are and, possibly, who you have always been.
Most Common Signs of Shame:
The Power of Shame
Shame is much more difficult to manage than feelings of guilt about a ‘bad’ action or embarrassment about a socially unacceptable act. Shame lasts longer, goes much deeper into the fabric of ourselves, and cannot be counteracted by external means such as an apology or an attempt to fix the harm done.
Shame is about ourselves, not others.
Brené Brown, professor at Houston Graduate College of Social Work, has researched the phenomenon of shame and written extensively about it. She calls shame the “most powerful master emotion. It’s the fear that we’re not good enough.”
What Causes Shame?
A deep feeling of shame about who we are, that we are unloved and unacceptable, often starts in childhood, usually in very early childhood. It may have to do with how our parents felt towards us as babies and toddlers. We may feel the shame that they carried for a lifetime, before we were born, and projected into us as small, helpless, needy, and completely dependent creatures.
Sometimes we feel this shame, deep inside, possibly for the rest of our lives.
Later in childhood, public and private shaming of body functions, body shape and size, accents, beliefs, social background, and many other attributes intrinsically linked to who we are or how we identify, confirm the deep sense of shame we might already carry inside us.
How Does Shame Corrode our Lives?
Because shame is such a deep internal feeling of being unlovable and unacceptable, it is something we carry with us everywhere. It can appear in every life situation.
Where other people may feel slightly uncomfortable at being inadequate or may even feel temporarily hurt by failure or rejection, shame will feed on those events. They are experienced as yet more proof that we are not good enough and that there is something wrong deep within us.
Shame corrodes the way we experience life.
Shame affects relationships and affects our work and study. Shame-based behavior can cause you to settle for someone you don’t love or accept a job that offers no challenge.
You may not be able to deal with making mistakes because you don’t believe they can be fixed or forgiven. If your shame is intense, you may even prefer not to return to a workplace because you can’t face your mistakes or fear being publicly shamed.
You may not seek medical help or avoid the dentist because of body shame.
You may give up on your college degree, your promotion, or on pursuing the person you love without even trying because you feel that, deep down, you won’t possibly get what you want. You may feel you don’t deserve to want those things in the first place.
People who live from a place of shame may convert their shame into shaming others, particularly those who are weaker, less capable, or dependent. It’s a desperate attempt to deflect shame and the suffering it causes onto someone who can’t defend him or herself.
This is how shame gets passed on through the generations.
Can shame be healed?
Yes, Shame Can Be Healed.
The wounds inflicted by our past can be acknowledged and addressed. Ultimately, we can learn to become loving and accepting parents to ourselves.
However, this is not something that happens overnight and, unfortunately, your nearest and dearest are probably not the ones who can help you most.
Intense, long-lasting feelings of shame have the best chance of being healed through therapy with a qualified, professional counselor. Contact me to get started on your path towards healing.
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