When I first discussed the idea of starting a blogs and articles, someone very close to recommended that I should start with the concept of shame. For this person, having an understanding of shame had helped to unravel some of the feelings they’d experienced throughout their life, but had not previously had the words to name them. Shame is a word that is often used throughout our language within conversations, child discipline, schooling and so-on, but we don’t often reflect upon its meaning and impact upon the receiver.
Shame is now widespread throughout society and is often purposely inflicted upon others as a tool of manipulation and way to control outcomes. If we can shame someone, make them feel bad about who they are and the way they feel and think, then it creates a power imbalance and a tool for persecution. Ironically, the shame inducer is likely to behave in such ways due to their own shame-based personality and will seek to prey upon others vulnerabilities.
Many people confuse the terms ‘guilt’ with ‘shame’. Very basically, when we feel guilt we often have a number of unpleasant thoughts and feelings in relation to something we may have done or said, causing distress or upset towards another. We feel guilty for our actions but recognise that this can often be repaired and ultimately it was the action in the moment that led to the negative outcome. Shame on the other hand is much deeper routed and has the ability to emotionally devastate the person experiencing it. You see, shame is the belief and associated feelings that we are faulty, we are broken and bad. We are the cause of others distress and upset due to, not just our actions but due to who we are. We feel we are faulty and riddled with defects. Shame has the ability to prevent a person from truly living, truly reaching their potential and often raises its head in the form of self-sabotage to stop us achieving things, resulting in reconfirmation that we didn’t really deserve the prize.
Many other problems arise when we feel an internal sense of shame, other than just low self-esteem and various forms of sabotage. We often perceive others around us to be better, higher achievers and that their lives must be more fulfilled. Due to this toxic shame, we may see a friend or colleague and build up a well of resentment and disdain towards them which becomes the seed of envy. We fail to understand that we actually project our own sense of shame onto the other as we feel they are achieving the things we truly desire but believe can-not reach or do not deserve. Sadly we may then sabotage these relationships or start splitting friends, create gossip and rumour as a way of enviously punishing the person we are projecting onto. I am sure we have all encountered these situations at one time or another.
Shame is so common that is it now used as a tool by those feeling it the most. Have a think about how we raise our children at times. Statements such as, ‘I hope you are ashamed of yourself’ and ‘You are bad’, ‘You are naughty’. These messages come from all forms of authority, parents and teachers yet very little is learned from them apart from it is the self at fault, not that the action or behaviour which was unwanted. Other forms of shame include shame based care-giving. We may care-give and rescue the other as a way of making ourselves feel better, re-enforcing that the other is not capable and unconsciously seek to meet our own needs, robbing the other of their autonomy. This is often played out within the parent-child relationship.
So, what can be done about this? Firstly, breathe deeply and ask yourself if shame is a feeling you experience regularly. If so, name the feeling and recognise that this is what you are feeling and it is not you that is faulty. Recognise that shame possibly seeped into your belief system whilst you were young and has sat there for too long, in the shadows without a name. The shame experiencer is not broken, faulty or weak and deserves as much success and happiness as anyone else. If we can recognise that we experience shame then we no longer have to be tied by it. If we feel we are being subjected to another’s shame-based behaviour we can move aside and say to ourselves ‘no, this is not my stuff’ and step out of the ‘game’.