Last week we defined shame and made the important distinction between shame and guilt. The next step is identifying shame and its origin. Unhealthy, prolonged feelings of shame, cause us to deny and therefore hide. Unwilling to accept the feeling of shame, we repress the message for corrective action. Prolonged denial evolves into secret avoidance.
When I see clients who are living with a prolonged sense of shame, I observe avoidance to the extent of actual physical and behavioral manifestations. This may be a passive, lowering of one’s head, not engaging in eye contact. Much like the way in which a small child will avoid eye contact with her parent when she knows she has broken a rule. It’s as if she is saying “please do not see me right now so I may avoid what I am feeling.”
Another, seemingly opposite, manifestation of shame is the person who is defensive, overly confident, and arrogant. They are puffed up to hide their shame, challenging anyone to expose the reality that their arrogance hides. These responses are different, and yet both are the result of an individual not allowing humanness, accepting shame as a learning tool.
Shame blocks progress. We lose the ability to be authentic, experiment, and grow self-confidence. We evolve into a person we were never meant to be; secretive, perfectionist, critical, judgmental, and self-loathing. Shameful people employ distracted behaviors to enforce hiding; lost in alcohol, drugs, sex, pornography, food, work, gambling, relationships, religion, shopping etc. All behaviors that potentially may evolve into an addiction, consuming daily life.
The complication of chronic shame not only forces us into various forms of hiding, it also robs us of our power to self-govern. We become subject to the power of others and/or addictions. We project our “never good enough” and assume that others believe it too.
We forfeit our personal truth to our spouse, family, employer, church, or government allowing an outside being or addiction to control us. We forfeit our internal compass, lose connection to the higher power within. Emptiness. No identity. Lost soul.
Shame recognized, it is imperative to identify its origin. “Where did my shame come from?”
There are many causes of excessive shame. Most shaming originates when one entity (person or organization) uses fear-based shame as a tool, attempting to control or exert power over another.
In therapy we investigate:
1. Family of origin–feelings of inadequacy that are passed from one generation to the next. Parents or relatives who are critical, judgmental, neglective, abusive, and exercising conditional love to a developing child. One grows up expecting and projecting that they are to be judged, never good enough, and unlovable.
2. Personal relationships–socialization that forces one person to feel “less than” because of differences in skin color, sexual orientation, socioeconomic background, religious affiliation, educational levels, or physical/ mental health challenges.
3. Projection from others–a partner or parent who pushes his/her shame onto others to avoid facing their own feeling of inadequacy. One person judges, criticizes and/or rages at another to hide his/her own shameful insecurities.
Understanding the origins and identifying the manifestations of shame is paramount to the healing process, and ultimately, positive change.
“Shame is the most powerful, master emotion. It’s the fear that we’re not good enough. ~Brene Brown
Next week: Shame Resolved