Shame is an emotion common to all human beings. Many beings on a healing path find it difficult to let go of shame. Although a lot of time is spent trying to take away the emotion of shame, the real healing comes from understanding the purpose of it. If you can understand its reasoning just like every other emotion, then you can look forward to a path that moves beyond it. Often we may find ourselves trying to heal from this emotion by controlling it. Discovering that control and shame are intricately woven together; and once the attachment of control is given up, you will soon see shame withering away with the once “needed” attachment.
What is shame?
Shame has been defined by Webster Dictionary as a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior. Guilt is often associated with shame. However, guilt is about doing something wrong whereas, shame is about being wrong at the very core of your being. Shame stems from the belief that, “I am inadequate, bad, wrong, undeserving, etc.”
While everyone has felt shame, most don’t recognize it in its various forms. Self consciousness is shame about personal performance, discouragement is a shame about temporary defeat, inferiority is an engulfing shame about the self, embarrassment is shame in front of others, and shyness is shame in the presence of a stranger.
Most of us experience the feeling of shame in early points in our lives; it is then that we absorb this false belief. This is a result of not feeling loved, valued, seen or understood. We begin to develop the intrusive belief that these things are happening because there was something wrong with us. While some children are flat out told that they were not okay – stupid, bad or undeserving – other children concluded that there is something wrong with themselves by the way they were being treated. Establishing our core shame belief, we become addicted to it because it serves us in two primary ways.
- Core shame belief gives us a feeling of control over other people’s feelings and behaviors.
If we believe that we are the cause of others’ rejecting behaviors, then we can believe that there is something we can do about it. By shaming ourselves we believe we are gaining a sense of power/control because if it’s our inadequacy, then maybe we can do something about it by changing ourselves or by doing things “right.” We hang onto the idea that it is our own fault causing others behaviors because we often don’t want to accept others free will to behave and feel however they want. We reject the acceptance of our own helplessness over others’ feelings and behaviors.
- Shame seems to protect us from other feelings that we are afraid to feel, and gives us a sense of control over our own feelings and emotions. As bad as shame may feel, many human beings prefer it to the feelings that it may be covering up: sadness, loneliness, sorrow, heartbreak, guilt, humiliation, or helplessness. Just as typical as using anger to cover up other emotions shame is used constantly. Many would rather feel an awful feeling that is self-caused than to accept the authentic feelings of life.
*So if you are finding it hard to move past shame, it may very well be because you have become accustomed and addicted to the feeling of control that your shame-based belief gives you: Control over others’ feelings/behaviors and control over your own authentic feelings. The importance of control determines the importance of your false shame beliefs.*
It is also very important to be aware of the triggers of shame. Shame is commonly triggered by basic expectations or hopes frustrated or blocked. In relationships, any occurrence that weakens the bond, or indicates lack of interest or rejection from the “needed” other is also a very big contributor to shame. A third contributing factor to shame is the disappointment or perceived failure in work or relationships.
If you can feel, you can heal!
First step is to be willing to accept that others’ behaviors and feelings have nothing to do with you. When you accept that you no longer take others behaviors personally you will have no need to control it. Letting go of the “need” to control others and instead move into compassion for others and yourself allows for the healing path past shame.
Another important indication of true healing and understanding of shame is when you are willing to feel your authentic feelings rather than covering them up. By learning to nurture yourself by being present with caring and compassion for your own existential feelings you will no longer need to be protected against anger or shame.
Exercises to help recognize and understand your own shame and beliefs.
Try to recognize what shame is to you by writing a specific moment from childhood in which you had felt shame. Write whatever emotions came with that shame as well as the thoughts that came during the occurrence and after. Don’t forget to think and write about the impulses you had. Did you want to move closer to others, against them or move completely away from them? You should also be aware of where you felt the shame in your body and what sound, color, texture, and temperature would it have?
Ultimately, write down how that shame occurrence still influences you today. The impact can be either a positive or negative and will allow you to help truly see where you are with your own growth. By doing this exercise you not only confront the emotions that are covered by shame, but understand the root of why you even have shame; Is it control? Are you afraid? Are there too many expectations?
The best way to obtain the most knowledge about shame and its purpose is to look within.
“We cultivate love when we allow our most vulnerable and powerful selves to be deeply seen and known, and when we honor the spiritual connection that grows from that offering with trust, respect, kindness and affection.
Love is not something we give or get; it is something that we nurture and grow, a connection that can only be cultivated between two people when it exists within each one of them – we can only love others as much as we love ourselves.
Shame, blame, disrespect, betrayal, and the withholding of affection damage the roots from which love grows. Love can only survive these injuries if they are acknowledged, healed and rare.”