Feelings February pt4: Shame
Shame in its essence is a way one feels about themselves and is usually triggered by our insecurities about ourselves that we’ve developed over time. Shame makes us feel like something is wrong with us. That we are bad. That we are unworthy.
And shame runs deep.
Because shame thrives on our insecurities we are less likely to name it publicly because we feel so embarrassed or terrible that we possess this badness; that we are this badness. Shame is internalized by us through cultural norms, through systemic violence and oppression, and through the binaries that the world is obsessed with. Good or bad. Normal or abnormal. Together or a mess. Man or woman. Straight or gay. Legal or illegal. Productive or lazy. And so many more.
These binaries create binary thinking that leaves no room for nuance. They demand perfectionism and ignore the complexities or our humanity.
I don’t know how to describe how shame feels. It feels as if this thing about you is so bad that is must be kept secret or it must be something you rid yourself of. Shame drives people into states of depression but it also drives people into states of self protection. When we are in a place of shame we cannot be accountable and we cannot learn. States of self protection make people experiencing shame get defensive and pass on hurt (shift blame, pass judgement); or they might make themselves as small as possible and appease or breakdown (‘Im terrible’, ‘I don’t deserve this’).
Shame is a form of escalation because it moves people out of a place where they can sustain a dialogue. If you’re serious about getting to negotiation or resolution with someone, focusing on behaviours rather than individual integrity and knowing people’s shame points is helpful. But getting someone to name their shame points takes trust. Holding people’s shame means you agree to hold their complexities and contradictions. When we try to move away from shaming people and realize that people hold pain and complexity; that binaries aren’t the only truth, we breakdown societal barriers and open the way for new forms of connection and community care.
To work through shame is a process but one can start by naming it when it shows up and learning what triggers it (your shame points). Be compassionate towards yourself when it’s present. Remember, our shame is usually about nothing that is actually wrong with us because shame is learned and internalized. We are taught to be ashamed. Once we start to notice and name its presence, we can start to slowly unlearn it. Try to notice when you put yourself down and if you focus on you or on the factors of the situation. Do you say, “I’m bad” or do you say “I tend to struggle with this because it’s not a strength of mine or because I’m learning”. Your words towards yourself matter.
Naming shame and learning your shame points is like opening a door to a new world. You start to change the way you speak to others because you know the phrases that cause shame. You shift your behaviour because you learn the actions that cause shame. You start to notice the prevalence of shame in our culture and its focus on scarcity and what you don’t have, instead of abundance and all the gifts that you do have.
If you’ve enjoyed this Feelings February series and want to learn more about my work or book me for a training, coaching session or mediation session, send me an email and let’s chat.