WHAT IS SHAME?

Shame
Photo by Renaud Confavreux on Unsplash

Do you have persistent self-sabotaging thoughts and beliefs about yourself which are not true? Do you struggle with low self-worth and self-hate?

Shame is the voice that says ‘why do I always do this’, ‘I can’t, ‘I never can’, ‘why can’t I ever’, ‘I’m such a loser’, ‘I’m stupid’, ‘I always get things wrong’, ‘I’m not worthy of love’ etc. Shame is when the body, bows it’s head, curls it’s shoulders in, makes itself small and looks away.

It is actually the child part of you that holds the shame and that part believes it is shame. Therefore, it will do whatever it can to keep shame alive (through the inner critic and self-sabotaging thoughts) because it believes if shame goes then that part dies – naturally it is trying to stay alive!

Letting go of Shame literally feels like life and death.

The truth is shame did help you survive back then, Shame is blame turned inwards on the self because the blame could not be put where it belonged (towards abusive/neglectful parents/caregivers etc) due to the fear of being hurt, abandoned, or neglected. Not many children could challenge their parents hurtful, wrong, shameful, and unfair neglect and behaviour or make sense of the confusion this causes. It was safer, at the time, to take on the blame ourselves, to believe we were wrong and to believe what they were saying to us, than to fight back and blame our parents. The reality was if we hadn’t gone into the freeze (learned helplessness and powerlessness) of the shame response and had gone into the fight / flight response, we would have got hurt more. We, therefore, unconsciously and automatically implemented our inner psychic defences, idealised our parents (and denied the reality that their behaviour was wrong, and that they did in fact cause us pain), and believed we were wrong, bad and always at fault, that it was us causing our parents to behave the way they did towards us when this was far from the truth.

As adults keeping this shame alive is self-sabotaging and deeply crippling, it keeps us frozen, stuck in life, fearing moving forward and taking our rightful place in the world. It keeps us in the ‘safe zone’ because by not taking action/risks and keeping ourselves small we are not subjecting ourselves to the punishment, hurt, ridicule or abandonment that will happen if we get ‘it’ wrong. Shame kept us from being seen and heard, because being seen and heard as children brought attention to ourselves which made us a target and in a threatening environment where we were open to ‘attack’ we needed to be invisible. By being small, curling up and staying quiet we avoided being detected. However, there is a part of us that wants to be seen and heard and feels angry towards others for not seeing us or ignoring us. We can now see the conflict between the part that feels threatened by being noticed, seen and heard and the part that wants to feel seen and heard, to feel that they do matter and are important.

So, to help shift from our shame response into feeling empowered, we need to reframe it as a positive. The first thing to mention is that there is a positive side to shame, ‘healthy shame’ stops us from harming people, animals, objects and helps us behave in a more socially accepted way. So we need to feel shame at times to help us survive in our families, communities and the world in general. Toxic shame is destructive, however, if we are not negative about it and understand why that part developed, it doesn’t have as much power. Shame is the patterns of other people’s opinions (parents, grandparents, teachers etc) and you have the choice to accept it as true or not. You don’t have to participate in these negative thoughts and beliefs, you can become present for them, allow them to come up and leave you. You can then choose to mentally reframe shaming thoughts that are not true to more truthful statements about yourself (positive affirmations) and break the habitual shame body posture by creating the power pose (lifting our head, making eye contact, shoulders back, making ourselves big, taking up space and walking tall). Being committed to and practicing these changes will help break the self-sabotaging shame pattern. We will then start to see ourselves no longer as children (victims) stuck in helplessness and powerlessness but as adults (survivors) who feel stronger, more resilient and empowered to move forward and create the life we want.

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