What is shame and how does it serve us? Shame is a self-conscious emotion; typically associated with a negative evaluation of the self. It also differs from guilt.
Shame tends to have deep roots and it typically develops because of early experiences with disconnection. A parent fails to become attuned to their child’s emotional needs, the experience of being physically or emotionally abandoned, all acts of abuse. The lack of connection doesn’t allow the child to see themselves as worthy and loved and as a result, they begin to feel flawed.
As children, we have no true ability to deal with such distressful and unpleasant emotions, and so we carry them. Shame is tied to our sense of self, and when we are triggered to feel it, we immediately go to feeling flawed, unworthy, not lovable. Shame often imbolizes us; keeps us feeling stuck, hidden. But it does not have to be this way.
First, we can begin to recognize that shame is the brain’s way of dealing with the threat of disconnection. The word ‘threat’ we can recognize as one that needs to be examined, for as a child, we may have not had the ability to deal with traumatic experiences, but as adults we do.
The first step is to simply label what we are feeling. “I am feeling shame right now and that is okay. I know that it protected me at a time in my life when I couldn’t protect myself. I can move out of this feeling and have a voice. I can make my own choices.”
Labeling shame is the first step in distancing ourselves from the emotion. Tomorrow’s post will examine how self-compassion allows us to transform shame from something that owns us, to something we can manage.
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