Shame, shame - you know your name!
Shame is a natural human emotion that, when operating well, allows us to be part of the society we live in. It is the inner voice that helps us to predict if an action we’re about to take or a need we are acknowledging will be supported by our environment. In this role shame is operating in an adaptive way: it’s helping us adapt how we come across to access the maximum level of support from our environment.
Maladaptive shame, the darker side of the emotion, can be a completely different experience. This is more akin to an inner experience of being "not wanted." It is feeling worthless, rejected, cast-out. Shame is believing that we are not loved because we are not lovable. This type of shame is so painful, so debilitating that we develop a thousand coping strategies, conscious and unconscious, numbing and destructive, to avoid its tortures. Shame is the worst possible thing that can happen, because shame, in its profoundest meaning, conveys that one is not fit to live in one's own community.
Growing out of this type of toxic shame can be very difficult. Our instinct when we’re in the grip of this feeling is to isolate ourselves and so minimise the risk of others seeing/hearing/knowing us in our shame. This creates a spiral as the distance between us and those around us increases and so our shame becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, which can lock us into a spiral of internalised rage and torture. We become shame-bound.
Shame-bound persons, believing themselves to be seriously flawed, without worth, and hardly belonging in the world inevitably have the consequences of their shame-consciousness show up very negatively in many areas of their life: self-esteem, relationships, depression, anxiety, rigid and perfectionistic. Not feeling the warmth of love, shame-bound people need to live very carefully, for a slip can cause them to lose their fragile hold on things.
Shame is pervasive and profound and doesn't fix easily, for it is a condition of all three aspects of ourselves and we experience it in our minds, our bodies and our souls. But with courage, attention and plain hard work healing is possible. Here are some thoughts for healing your shame:
- Let yourself learn, through and through, that your shame is not your fault.
- Face shame, experience it, incorporate it.
- There is nothing shameful about shame.
- Replace shame with mature guilt.
Most importantly, and only when we can bear it, connecting with another human being to talk through our shame and getting their support in working through the points above can help massively. It might sound like an impossible dream, but a talented therapist will have many ways to support clients with this type of work. So reach out for support from someone with your shame and experience that for what it is: the opposite of shame and a large part of the antidote to it.