Shame is the feeling that you are fundamentally flawed in some way. That you are worthless, not deserving of love, kindness, and care.
Have you ever felt that way?
Most of us get hijacked by “shame attacks” from time to time.
Sometimes the trigger is clear is to us, whereas at other times we are completely blindsided by burning embarrassment, or intense feelings of being bad.
If you have experienced trauma in your life, odds are that the feeling of shame is familiar to you. It is often the hidden cause of the most persistent symptoms of PTSD and complex trauma.
Maybe you are plagued by regret. You’ve made some mistakes, and instead of thinking “ok, I’ll make amends” or “I’ll do better from now on” you become mired in in shame, feeling that you are “always bad”, “so stupid” or other derogatory ideas about yourself.
Perhaps shame will overtake you when you are the centre of attention such as talking in front of a crowd of people, or standing up for something you believe in.
Or, it may happen when someone close to you looks at you with a certain intensity. Often, as you are feeling close to someone, these feelings of not deserving love or care can get very strong.
Frequently, you may get flooded with feelings of shame if someone in authority, such as your boss, or someone you really respect, treats you with indifference, disregard or contempt.
Surprisingly, reaching for your cherished goals or most valued dreams tend to really make shame rear its head.
Here’s the surprising idea— no matter how horrible shame feels, it is not your enemy. However strange it may sound, your feelings of shame are most likely trying to protect you.
My feelings of worthlessness are protecting me?
Let me explain.
Likely, you learned to feel shame as a very young child. Those feelings were born in circumstances where you weren’t treated as you should. But, you couldn’t afford to recognize that the people around you were unsafe, or didn’t protect you.
So, instead, you shouldered the blame for your maltreatment. This probably was not a conscious thought, but rather a deeply ingrained feeling about being bad and not deserving kindness.
That was very useful at the time. It kept you feeling safer, and more connected in situations that otherwise would have been intolerable. If you feel that “bad things happened to me because I’m bad” then that keeps a glimmer of hope alive. There remained the possibility that you could change—become “good”.
Frozen in time
Unfortunately, those feelings of shame are now frozen in time. They have not adjusted for the facts that you are now grown up, you have many more resources available to you, and you have many more ways of protecting yourself.
So, they are still protecting you, continually scanning for situations where you may risk hurt, dismissal, or disregard.
That’s why, when you get close to friend or a lover, shame comes in. “Better feel you don’t deserve to be loved” it says, “ because he might hurt you! Better not get close! “
Or, when your boss treats you poorly, shame tells you “ Feel worthless now. It is safer than standing up for yourself, or not accepting his judgements about your work”.
Especially, shames threatens to engulf you when you start to do what is really good for you, what would really help you. “Don’t dare to think that you deserve good things”, it says. “You wanted to be seen and valued when you were little, and look how hurt you got. Don’t go there again”.
Ok. So how do I deal with this?
The key in reducing the amount of time shame has a hold on you is in recognizing those two things:
1) shame came into your life to protect you
2) it is now frozen in time, acting as if your circumstances haven’t changed.
To both reduce the shame, and “unthaw it”, allow yourself to recognize what it was like for you as a child.
Possible strategies include:
· Look at small children, see their innocence and vulnerability. Recognize that you were that innocent and vulnerable too. Allow that recognition to enter into your being, and feel whatever feelings that come along with that (rage, sadness, hurt, despair, etc)
· Write a letter to your hurt little child, telling her/him how much you love him/her, and how you are her for him/her now. Let the hurt child answer back. Start a dialogue.
· In your imagination, meet your child in the time/place where he/she is frozen and offer unconditional love.
· Get a sense of where this hurt little child part lives in your body, and place a hand on that location, offering support and care.
When to get help?
If your shame is not too strong, you may be able to use those strategies on your own. If you do, you’’ll probably find them very helpful.
However, if your shame is very strong, because the maltreatment you experienced was intense or prolonged, you will likely need some help.
This is not because you are flawed. Rather it is because you lived through hard times of such magnitude that shame had to be real strong to protect you as best it could.
I am a bit of a shame expert, and have helped many people recover from crippling shame. They have regained their joy for life. So, when you are ready, please contact me at 250 515 2123 or use the pop-up box for a free consultation. I would be delighted to help you regain the good life you deserve!