Shame as I see it is a societal infringement to keep people in check. The societies involved are parents, families, schools, churches, communities and government. When we believe in certain social norms put down by society and we violate them, we feel shame. Different people will have different reasons for their shame feelings. The shame feelings can hold a person back. Shame feelings can affect self esteem, self confidence and how people are in relationships. Depression can be intensified by feelings of shame as we focus the feelings inwardly. Women tend to feel humiliated more easily than men do therefore are more susceptible to the negative effects but men are affected too. The feeling of shame is often felt as an uncomfortable sensation in the pit of our stomachs. We probably all have some issues of shame as this feeling is often hidden and not talked about.
One example of my shame was being teased about a presentation I was very nervous about. This experience occurred during my undergrad course in pharmacy many years ago when I was using a pointer on an overhead which tells you how many years ago that was. Presenting to a class of 120 students made me very nervous so my pointer was shaking as I brought certain aspects of my diagram to students’ attention. I could hear snickers from a few of the males in front and I felt terrible shame. After a few such experiences I joined Toastmasters International that has served me well. Now as a therapist one of the most shameful events I hear about is sexual abuse and related trauma that happened to adults when they were children and there is no blame to a child for this experience but yet they carry that shame for years. There are many other examples. Some are about being bullied in school or at other times being a bully in school, being caught in a lie, small thefts, breaking something, failed relationships, being part of a dysfunctional family are but a few and there are many, many more.
If you have the opportunity to explore your shame with a therapist or some else it can be an opportunity of a life time. Exploring it skillfully and with wisdom and heart you can find compassion, vulnerability and a tenderness for yourself that will bring you relief from hiding from yourself. When you no longer hide from yourself you may stop hiding from others and find yourself more at ease, open and available to life. The experience can feel painful to bring into the open but remember it sits hidden and is just as painful. Welcoming it into conscious awareness lightens the load.
Starting to explore your shame can be like an explorer going into new territory. Be courageous, curious and open for best results. Let your compassion handle your pain that surfaces. Your compassion is often related to that voice within. Change the tone to reflect how you would talk to a very good friend or a small child and become your own very good friend. Start with a narrative exploration about the shame and be open, curious and compassionate and leave judgment behind. What happened, why did it happen, what else was going on, what were you feeling and thinking and who supported you and helped you?
Next you will want to observe your shame from a psychological distance, by asking yourself, What is shame?, How does it come into your thoughts from the past and from yourself?, How does it feel? Answering these questions puts a space between you and your shame. Now you can observe and study it from a distance. Its like studying an object that is new to you. If you are an artist or this appeals to you, draw shame and study the art piece narratively to get a different approach or simply write your story. Were you made to feel ashamed of who you were when you were young, ashamed of your intelligence, ideas or your body? Your shame story may have been a heavy load for many years and no longer needs to define you as you are not your story but a whole essence. Leave the story behind as you are not your story! Where do you feel shame in your body? Often shame lives in your stomach as a sensation that is uncomfortable but there areas vary. If you sit quietly and scan your body, notice physical sensations and numb places, you will discover where your shame rests and just accept it and makes friends with it. Remember you are not your shame and watch those spaces dissolve.
Addressing your inner dialogue again is important as this can be the
root of what drives and holds your shame and than your shame drives the inner
dialogue. Once you remove yourself from that shame story some of that inner
dialogue won’t fit and will change to positive. Using Socratic questioning can
help dispel some of the negative self talk and make it more realistic and
relevant. Start with Where’s the evidence that what you say to yourself is
true? Calling yourself a loser, define loser and does it fit? The negative self
talk can be a habit you need to break as it doesn’t fit anymore. Would you say
that to your friend? Are you your best friend? The more you practice exploring
your self talk and its relevance to today, the less impact it will have and
eventually it will disappear. Does living with shame make you isolate and
therefore lonely? Maybe you believe no one wants to be around you so you push
them away. Explore how you do that. Are you critical and judgmental of others.
If you have the urge to isolate, this might be evidence that you are judging
others and your shame is again taking charge. Go to your story and explore what
you believe and where you feel it in your body and accept what you are feeling
without judgment for a healthier relationship with yourself and thereby with
others. Sometimes shame and fear go together as you might be afraid of who you
are and being seen for who you are. Accept the fear and embrace it and let it
stay as long as it needs to. Let yourself be vulnerable as this is the path to
inner peace. Practice with small steps to let yourself see that what you fear
won’t happen and allow your current experiences to be what they are.
Living in shame and fear requires that you lie to yourself constantly and you start to believe you are unworthy, inadequate and wrong. Its not true! Invite radical honesty with questioning those thoughts, Where’s the evidence? Question your experience and look for those feelings in your body. You are whole, full, pure and perfect as you are. Remember shame is about limitations that hold you back and keep you separate and isolated. Where is your heart? Is it wide open with tenderness for yourself? Allow yourself to be touched by every day experiences and have courage to live your life with openness and love for yourself and others.
Irene Haire, MC, RCAT Registered Provisional Psychologist with an Art Therapy Specialty is in private practice in Edmonton at The Belmead Professional Centre 218-8944-182 St Edmonton, Ab T5T 2E3 780-232-1055 web: www.cloverdalecounselling.com E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org