This is one of the top taboo topics to talk about, yet we don’t even know where to start.
“Shame lives in silence” – V.B.Chase
Let us start by saying what shame is. Shame is something you are, is a statement, and a way of 'being'. Such as, “I am bad”. Even if it is not true, internally you believe it. While guilt and shame kind of go hand in hand, guilt is something you did and feel bad about. The guilt statement would be “I did something bad”.
Guilt: “You made a bad decision and now you can learn from it and not do it again.”
Shame: “I can’t believe you did this, I am a horrible person and incapable.”
Breaking them apart like this is huge, why may you ask? Because guilt is something you did and not totally a part of you, and you learn from it. While shame is “I am” and starts to become a part of you, in a sense it casts shadows over you. This is why shame is so hard. Shame is difficult and sometimes fear-based since sometimes we don’t even know it is shame. So how can we name it, when we don’t even know what it is? Hence why it festers and becomes overbearing, as fear of the unknown steps in and our reptilian brain (Basal Ganglia) is trying to keep us safe and tries to deviate away from it and hides. Survival kicks in without our knowledge, unconsciously, the unknown is fearful to our reptile brain and tries to keep us safe from it. Wowza!
Our survival brain goes into fight, flight, freeze type responses. Making sure this ‘threat’ doesn’t harm us further.
We as humans are amazing, we have the capacity to understand when a true threat is happening, an emotional (Limbic System) hidden response is happening or a rational one (Neocortex). Put them all together and you are a wise one! A wise mind is when both sides of your brain talk to each other to make a conscious or wise choice.
The trick here is to question when shame shows up, here are some questions you can ask yourself? :
I am threatened?
Am I going to die?
Am I feeling fear?
Where is this fear coming from?
Is there anything behind it?
Is this new or old?
Does this remind me of someone or something in the past?
What sensations are arising?
Where in my body am I feeling it?
Is it tight, sore, a shape, numb, a color?
What is it saying?
Is this me or someone else?
Is your inner critic a caregiver or your parents' voice?
If you didn’t have an inner critic saying these things, what would happen? What does it keep you from?
Understanding the origins of shame are necessary in order to perceive a threat is true and how to acknowledge those feelings. Remember shame lives in silence. Move into shame and name it, this is the first step. Say it out loud, name it. Take away its power and talk about it.
“Shame thrives on secrecy, silence, and judgment.” – Brene Brown
What happens if you let shame take you into the deep end of the pool. Well, nothing good. Trauma and shame have similar responses; unhealthy, destructive behaviours, however, they may show up for you, to you or even you to others. This gives shame its power and control of you. Which in turn isn’t you or your true set values. Shame thrives in inadequacy, regret, fear, unworthiness and disconnection. Usually, shame is an old belief of what happened when you were a child.
What shame will tell you:
I am not good enough.
I am bad
I will not change
Everyone hates me
Everyone judges me
Some sensations/feelings that can occur:
The good news is that this can change and shift, with the right tools and steps that can help guide you into overcoming shame.
What next? You named it, felt it, now what? We look for evidence that are facts towards the truth. Look into your Values, your whole, a time when you were not ashamed and how that felt. This becomes a baseline to know there is hope out of shame. Now to introduce coping skills if you don’t have them already, or build on ones you already have.
Breathing – exhale more than you inhale. If it helps put on a self-guided breathing exercise.
Journaling – write out everything that happened, ask questions to yourself and don’t hold back. Challenge assumptions. Was there something you had done differently or said differently. Validate it.
Expressing emotions – in healthy ways. Show compassion for self. Feel into it.
Dancing – put on your favourite tune and sing/ dance along. Move those feelings.
Exercise – such as a long walk in nature, a bike ride or a run.
Meditate-calms your mind so you can think clearly
Learning – Knowledge can unlock truths.
Belief and values work – attunement with self. Re-connect.
Inner child work/ inner critic work
Community – fight against the facts of belonging.
Speak to a trusted person – Normalize, perspective interpretation.
Etc. – Do what works best for you. (healthy and not harmful)
“A great exercise is to write down your shame message on a cue card and on the backside write down the real message/ opposing.” – Dr Terry Real, MSW, LICSW
Then remind yourself that what you do, is not fully who you are as a person. We have different parts of us that make us a whole human being. However, what we do does not fully make us who we are. Understand where those triggers/shutdowns are coming from deep down, with understanding and compassion. If you have trouble with this one, seek help from a trustworthy person or professional. You do you, not someone else’s version of you. Finally, connect… connect… connect…. Be vulnerable and reach out to someone trustworthy. We are human being human, having a human experience and we F*** up sometimes.
“I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become.” - Carl Jung