Photo Credit: Pixabay, John Hain
Shame is not something I’ve actually thought much about. Now guilt…that is a whole other matter. I know guilt…intimately. Shame as an emotion can affect all of us but less for some than others. In the last few years, and especially in recent months, I’ve taken to studying shame…for my own sake and that of those who deeply feel it.
Shame differs from guilt. Eve Glicksman in Your Brain on Guilt and Shame describes them both as “self-conscious emotions linked to real or perceived moral failures. Their motivations and outcomes are different, though, and you can have one without the other. Guilt arises when your behavior conflicts with your conscience. Shame is triggered when we think we’ve damaged our reputation…With shame, the focus is on someone else discovering your misdeed.” Guilt is an emotional response to a bad behavior, separate from the person. Whereas shame is a much larger response transferring the bad behavior onto the self, making self a bad person. Guilt deals with the behavior only, not the self, but shame, if found out, will do whatever it takes to protect self, to not be devalued by others.
Photo Credit: The Compass of Shame, D. L. Nathanson, IIRP
The experience of shame is to be avoided so the one with a bent toward shame will withdraw from people, attack (either self or the other person), or avoid through addictive behaviors.
Brené Brown, professor and researcher, has done ground-breaking work in the area of shame. Her TED Talk below, Listening to Shame, is riveting. She talks about how shame tries to taunt us with “You’re not good enough” and “Who do you think you are?”. Guilt says, “I did something bad”, but shame says, “I am bad”.
“The ability to hold something we’ve done or failed to do up against who we want to be is incredibly adaptive. It’s uncomfortable, but it’s adaptive.” – Brené Brown, Listening to Shame, TED Talk
When shame is our struggle, if we are willing to break out of the secret life, the silence that binds us, we can begin the healing. If we’re willing to be vulnerable with others, even if it’s a few safe others to begin with, we can create a new life. We can change.
“Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change.” – Brené Brown, Listening to Shame, TED Talk
As I learn more about shame, it has dawned on me that my mom didn’t shame us growing up. I didn’t know that until recent years. It just didn’t happen. For that I am thankful, and the way she parented us is how I’ve parented our children.
Shaming stays with us…from childhood through adulthood, unless we take intentional steps to not let it define us.
“Shame is contagious if you take on the lethal projections of shame from a partner–especially one who is abusive. In this same way, shame is especially difficult, if not toxic, for children because it is an emotion that is concealed, especially by victims of aggression or abuse. The anticipation of being shamed by peers creates anxiety in a child if he or she is a victim of bullying…Shame can be experienced as such a negative, intense emotion of self-loathing that it can lead one to disown it, and, in the case of one who acts like a bully, give it away by evoking that emotion in others.” – Mary C. Lamia, Ph.D.
Before shaming (whether another adult or a child), pediatrician Claire McCarthy offers 5 questions that you should ask yourself:
- Is this something they can change?
- Is it important that they change it?
- Is this a good place and time to say anything?
- Do they want to change this behavior?
- Is there a better way of changing this behavior?
In a moment of high emotion, these questions may be hard to consider, BUT those moments if not handled well can turn into memory and can even change the wiring for us of how we deal through life with “bad behavior” and what we think of ourselves.
The Clearview Treatment Program staff post excellent helps on various topics in mental health. Their piece on 5 Ways Shame Can Shape Your Life is brilliant. Here are their 5 ways (go to article to read the added commentary):
- People who live with shame often avoid relationships, vulnerability, and community.
- People who live with shame are prone to suppressing their emotions.
- People who live with shame often feel worthless, depressed, and anxious.
- People who live with shame are less likely to take healthy risks.
- People who live with shame are more likely to relapse back into problem behaviors.
Then they list 5 ways out of shame. So helpful and empowering!
- Seek out relationships and commit to vulnerability with safe people.
- Move out of your head and into the open.
- Develop self-compassion.
- Take one small risk.
- Believe that healing is possible.
If you struggle with shame and need a mental health or counseling professional, do your homework and find one who truly knows how to help. You don’t have to live the way you’re living now…you don’t have to hide from others or avoid or withdraw or attack. You can be free…to be the person you want to be, giving and receiving empathy and having empathy for yourself.
Photo Credit: Pixabay, John Hain