What is Shame?
Shame is a painful feeling of humiliation or distress.
Shame and the inability to talk about it or to even acknowledge it will only create more pain and havoc. As with any feeling, when it is denied it grows stronger every time it resurfaces.
Most of us split feelings into positive feelings and negative feelings. Shame is preserved to be a negative feeling. I do not believe that any feeling is negative. They all serve a purpose and we need to identify what that is.
When experiencing shame it can often feel unbearable, triggering thoughts of worthlessness, and cutting us off from those around us. It can also evoke other painful feelings, such as
• rage at the one that made us feel shamed
• fear of abandonment
• despair at being unable to cope with this feeling
There are many other emotions that can be generated by shame. An example of some of the emotions I list here but this list is by no means exhaustive.
Alienation, Humiliated, Powerless, Defenceless, Unworthy, Rejected, Weak, Rejected, Inadequate, Insecure, Shy, Stupid, Helpless, Flawed, Exposed, Inferior, Embarrassed, Belittled, Stigmatized, Hurt
And the list goes on and on…..
The Physical Effects of Shame
Feelings of shame can manifest itself into many physical forms. For example when talking to someone we hide your eyes or lower your gaze
• blush easily
• bite your lip or tongue
• force a smile
• Feeling annoyed
• Feeling defensive
Having experienced one or more of the above the effects of shame can interfere with the ability to think. As a result we may feel confused, tongue tied and unable to find the right words to become actively involved in a conversation.
What makes us feel shame?
We feel shame when we are lead to believe that something we have or have not done is wrong or foolish.
Shame maybe described as the inner critical voice that judges whatever we do as wrong, inferior, or worthless. That inner critical voice is only repeating what has already been said in the past by our parents, relatives, teachers, so called friends and total strangers.
At some point in all our pasts we have been
• Told we were naughty,selfish, ugly or stupid as children
• Ostracised by peers at school or in the workplace
• Humiliated by teachers or work colleagues
• Treated by contempt by stranger, parents etc.
We may also not have lived up to someone expectations by not passing that school exam or getting that promotion at work. This produces criticism from those we see in authority or above ourselves. These criticisms then become internalized and morph into own inner critical voice. And so we now hear ourselves say:
• “You idiot, why did you do that?”
• “Can’t you do anything right?”
• “You should be ashamed of yourself”
• “Look at that ugly thing in the mirror”
Shame can also be felt when an emotion is frowned about by parents etc. Some emotions that may be frowned upon and how they are chastised by others are:
• Displaying sadness through crying
o “Stop crying, big girls do not cry”
o “Pull yourself together”
o “Look, people are looking at you and laughing, now stop that behaviour”
• Showing anger
o “You are making a fool of yourself”
• Expressing fear
o “There is no need to be afraid of…..”
o “Don’t be silly, you are ok”
• Showing pride
o “Who do you think you are?”
o “what a show off”
All of these negative comments are internalised and when we experience sadness, anger etc. those feelings generated by the original comments come flooding back and we feel shame.
The inner critical voice then becomes our inner critical judge as these feelings arise again and again, gaining strength. This inner critical judge is continuously providing a negative evaluation of what we are doing, moment-by-moment. The inner critic may then make it impossible for us to do anything right.