Shame is an overwhelming feeling that’s triggered whenever one perceives (most of the times erroneously) he or she is not wanted within a given group, or being unworthy to even be wanted or desired by anyone. Such shame is experienced the moment you become aware that your inadequate, dark or worthless self is in danger of being exposed and you sense an incoming threat of humiliation by your peers or, in a broader sense, your society.
When shame reaches excessive levels, it imprisons the individual, locking him in a cage that reminds him constantly of how worthless he is, in a never-ending cycle of despair and agony. Shame might arise from various sources, such as our biochemical and genetic predisposition, the culture we live in or were raised in, our families, relationships from the past and current ones, and our natural tendency to develop self-shaming thought patterns and behaviors or chronic depression.
if you are aware that you have an extreme tendency for being dramatically self-conscious to the point where you cannot act or speak, then it’s more than likely that you’re dealing with excessive shame. Those who suffer from extreme shame often end up in uncomfortable situations from which they’d give anything to escape from, but feel too much imprisoned and powerless to even move. Such individuals are usually petrified with the thought that if others would deeply know them, they would certainly hate them or lose all desire in maintaining a relationship.
Due to all this self-hatred, these individuals don’t lose any chance to catalyze their negative energies unto others by pointing out their flaws and weaknesses; and have a high tendency to end up furious (showing it or not) the moment their dignity is put to test.
What is shame?
More than just a feeling, shame encloses many other components in one single affect, and once broken down to its essential parts, it includes several physical aspects, such as: avoidance of eye contact, extreme blushing, the frantic pounding of the heartbeat, speaking or thinking becomes highly impaired, an overwhelming desire to fly away from shameful situations as soon as possible, and even nausea.
All of these physical responses triggered by the affect of shame are frequently followed by actions that fall in a predictable pattern, such as hiding or avoiding others, and self-mutilating thoughts in the like of “I’m so worthless”, “I’m such a failure”, “I’m a burden to everyone who loves me” or “I don’t deserve to have any friends”.
The moment shame becomes toxic, or when it has chronic components to it, the shamed person deeply believes that he, or she, has deep faults as a human being and, therefore, shouldn’t exist given the fact the self is defective and worthless. Such shame is tremendously destructive and impairs the individual from carrying on with a normal life, for it separates the real self from the others.
When analyzed at the deepest core of the individual’s being, it ultimately represents a spirit in crisis, and as John Bradshaw pointed out in his book “Healing The Shame That Binds You”, toxic shame is the bankruptcy of the spirit, and he regards it as dehumanizing due to its “more than human, less than human polarity”, and he thinks that shame “is functionally autonomous, which means that it can be triggered internally without any attending stimulus. One can imagine a situation and feel deep shame. One can be alone and trigger a shaming spiral through internal self-talk. The more one experiences shame, the more one is ashamed.”
When shame becomes toxic
Even though shame and guilt are not the same, sometimes they’re working together in one of the worse simultaneous cooperation of affects one can experience. Guilt is focused on wrongdoings and transgressions of all sorts, while shame is focused on the perception of worthlessness, faultiness of being or darkness of the self. Those who feel guilty fear some form of punishment; those who feel shame fear being abandoned.
If one is not overwhelmed by shame, then it doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad affect, and it can actually have immense value, for without shame the pure sense of intimacy or privacy wouldn’t exist at all. Healthy shame in not exactly an uncomfortable feeling and the individual who experiences it can use it to his or her advantage and modify the recent or recurrent behavior. Healthy shame simply notifies us that we are doing something wrong with our lives and it gives us the will and motivation to change. While this type of shame is temporary, toxic shame is not.
When toxic shame is in charge of your life you might experience absolute paralysis and lose the ability to say or do anything. At the same time you might feel a deep lack of energy, for shame makes us feel impotent, weak and very small to even matter. Those who feel shame create strong defenses to save themselves from constantly being utterly overwhelmed. One of the typical defenses is to vanish and look for isolated and secure locations to be completely alone and unseen by anyone. Another defense is withdrawal by literally running away or the creation of highly complex masks, such as fake smiles and the need to please others, and also creating the illusion of being extremely self-confident and relaxed, constantly covering and eclipsing the real self.
Shamed persons tend to assume that if no mistake made, then there’s absolutely nothing to ever feel ashamed about, so they tend to become over-perfectionist in order to never fail or disappoint in anything so that shame never hits them hard. A typical pattern on people who never miss a chance to criticize others is that they’re actually trying to pass their shame unto anybody else – by creating the illusion one has the authority to criticize others, he or she builds up a strong defense against shame by believing themselves and making everyone else believe that the others are much worse persons in comparison to themselves. In order to escape from feelings of inferiority, the critic always needs to feel superior and dominant.
Another way to mask shame is through rage – attacking the perceived offender is one of the many ways to fight against humiliation. The combination of rage and shame might often lead to physical or verbal abuse. Toxic shame goes beyond notifying us of our limits; it becomes a state of mind, an identifiable core of who one is, making the individual lose perception of how much he or she is a beautiful and worthy being.
Dealing with shame
If you think you became caught in a trap of shame, there’s no shame in getting help – be it a psychotherapist, a support or therapy group, a priest, or even talking with a friend – because fighting shame is not an easy task, but there’s no need to fight it alone. Even though the healing of shame is a slow process, the first big step is to become aware of it, for shame lives deep down at the core of the individual’s being and makes him believe that his worthlessness cannot ever be changed, so he’s completely unable of identifying shame as the source of all those negative feelings.
To heal shame takes strength and a focused state of mind to unveil and explore whatever events triggered and developed the core of it. It’s just as much mandatory to identify every single defense you might have created to avoid shame, for you cannot eliminate what you cannot see. The moment one fully acknowledges the fact everybody is completely different from everyone else, that nobody is shameful due to any personal characteristics, and that we all belong to the human race, then healing begins.
Repeat to yourself that you’re not better or worse than anyone else, and nobody else is better or worse than you. Accept the fact we all have differences and it’s exactly such heterogeneous living that gives beauty to reality. You are as beautiful as everybody else, not more nor less!
Understand that healing from shame takes the courage to face the issued and wounds from your childhood, so you must give voice to the inner child in you. You must integrate the parts of yourself you decided to disown and accept everything that your self has, be it shame-bound feelings, your anger and sadness, your desires and needs, your fears and joys, your sexual nature, everything that you are! Because these are the parts that your shame decided to split away from yourself.
Remember that to love oneself is not an option, but a healthy obligation, for love is the cure to all negative feelings. Unconditional love is something that you can certainly count at least from yourself, so take some time to look at who you are and what you achieved and say out loud how much you love yourself! Say it as much as you need to understand that you’re divine and beautiful – just like everyone else. Accept who you are, exactly as you are in this very moment, and healing begins.
Conclusion and final words
A solid sense of self is as crucial to everyone’s spiritual development as it is to let go. Whenever we get too defensive, it’s important not to condemn neither others, nor our very own selves, for the ego takes great proportions from such actions and ends up overwhelming us. By denying things, we lose the ability to process shame in the right time and end up hiding in our subconscious corrosive and false messages about who we are – and consequently lose touch with how important others are in our lives!
The moment an individual loses the need to fight with himself and retaliate back on others, he becomes aware of what really is going on – he becomes enlightened. And there’s no greater step when it comes to pursuing a spiritual life replenished with knowledge, than accepting who we are and letting go. Accepting that everything is one and letting go. Accepting how divine it is to be alive and letting go.