By appointment, Monday-Thursday
Defining Shame

If shame were somehow magically banished from this world, I might not have a counseling practice.  For most of my clients, at some point during the process of therapy, we eventually circle back to shame and its lifelong effects.  Dealing with shame is vital to one’s emotional health.

A soundbite I repeat often in an attempt to grab the attention of my clients: “I’d rather you shit on yourself than shame yourself.”  I stand by that statement.  Shit’s easy.  Take a shower.  Wash it off.  Ridding chronic shame, conversely, takes painstaking work and dedication to clear our souls.  It is a process.  Years of internal messages of “not good enough” are challenging.  Multiple, metaphorical cleansings are necessary to remove shame.

The voice of shame sounds like this:

“I am a bad person.”

“I am never good enough.”

“I messed up again.”

Sometimes it whispers; sometimes it screams.  Mostly it nags. Always, the voice of shame haunts.

Let’s distinguish between shame and guilt, two words that are often used interchangeably.  Guilt refers to the acknowledgement that a wrong has been committed; whereas shame references the feeling one internalizes as a result of a dishonorable act, a perceived misstep, or sometimes from the acceptance of another’s projected shame.

Guilt is the external reality that an offense has been committed.  Admission of guilt is often the initial, positive step toward healing.  Shame, the feeling that results from guilt, felt and recognized, can also be an affirmative step.  Like all emotions, shame is not “bad,” but the prolonged, ignored, feeling of shame can foster a pervasive, dark attitude that causes us to hide.  The ultimate interference with healing.

The good news is that shame is identifiable.  As with any emotion, over time, we can learn to recognize and learn from our shame.  Resources examining shame are abundant.  Therapy and having a safe place to discuss shame is a solid beginning. It is a process.

“Shame is a soul eating emotion.” ~C.G. Jung

Next week:  Identifying the signs and effects of shame.


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