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SHAME

Shame is part of human life, because it reminds us how imperfect and fallible each of us is. It also guides us to work in different groups and cultures in appropriate, expected ways. However, shame can be excessive, and it can get in the way of life.

EXCESSIVE, LIFE-CONTROLLING SHAME

  • limits life – the feeling of shame dictates how you can live, act, and feel
  • is constantly present – it can become part of your identity, making you feel inadequate, bad, and unworthy as a human being
  • makes you alert and wary – it sensitises you to observing and assessing the emotional states and behaviour in yourself and others. This makes you act according to other people’s expectations and ignore your own needs and wishes.

Shame is difficult to identify and is often confused with feelings of guilt. For example, people often talk about feelings of inadequacy, unworthiness, or inferiority, even if shame is the underlying feeling. Shame can also be disguised as sadness, anger, anxiety, jealousy, or co-dependency.

SHAME STEMS FROM CHILDHOOD AND ADOLESCENCE

Feelings of shame come from our experiences in childhood and adolescence. The sense that you are not important and valuable enough for your parents and that you cannot meet their expectations creates shame. A poor emotional climate in the family and major losses and changes, such as the death of a parent or poverty, also predispose you to shame.

In addition, many of a child’s individual characteristics, such as personality, temperament, character traits, and skills and abilities, influence the depth of the experience. Shame can also be passed unrecognised from parent to child in the family.

SHAME AFFECTS YOU IN MANY WAYS

Shame can also be felt in physical reactions:

  • flushing, sweating, or shaking
  • lowering your gaze
  • stiffening or paralysis
  • slurred or excessive speech
  • withdrawing from or overperforming in a situation
  • shameless behaviour and disregard
  • cynicism
  • an unnecessarily strong reaction to irrelevant issues

In such situations, you can become aware of your own unaddressed shame, which affects many things.

Unaddressed shame can expose us to:

In addition, unaddressed shame affects our sexuality by suppressing and inhibiting the acceptance and enjoyment of one’s own body. At its worst, shame can even cause death wishes and self-harm.

THE DESIRE TO HIDE SHAME

It is characteristic of shame that we feel the need to hide it. When we cannot face our shame, we fight it in ways that we find functional and acceptable. Many of us create different coping mechanisms to cover up shame. These can include:

  • different roles, such as a weak person, helper, pleaser, leader, clown, etc.
  • a protective wall of perfection, materialism, and constant striving for achievement
  • self-criticism
  • black-and-white thinking
  • constant feelings of guilt

But hiding our shame does not make it go away. On the contrary: when something is revealed about us that we wish to hide from others, our shame becomes even stronger.

HOW TO LET GO OF SHAME? 

Freedom from shame that controls your life begins with recognising and acknowledging your shame. Then, it will be possible to remove the burden of perfectionism and allow yourself to be inadequate, needy, and vulnerable. It is important to understand how you have acted in trying to hide your shame, what roles and protective walls you have created for yourself.

It is also important to recognise your personal shame buttons – which situations and things trigger strong feelings of shame. Once you’ve identified your shame buttons, you can start to learn how to react in a new way to shame-inducing situations.

Writing and talking are good tools for dealing with shame. For many people, the easiest way to start is to write about their feelings, e.g., in a diary. By writing, you can acknowledge your feelings of shame to yourself. They can then be confessed to someone else, such as a loved one or a professional therapist. When you tell someone about your shame, it loses its power.

Breaking free from the shackles of shame is about accepting your own weakness and loving and accepting yourself (link to self-compassion) as you are, with all your qualities and imperfections.