Updated: Apr 7, 2020
Shame is one of those feelings that lies deep beneath our conscious state and when triggered or aroused can become paralyzing. We typically can admit to other feelings of guilt, embarrassment however we rarely use the word shame to describe how we feel. What is it that makes shame so shameful?
First lets look to the common root causes of shame. Typically there is the real self that we are aware of and that we decide on how to present to the world. At a young age we receive an onslaught of messages regarding what is acceptable and what is deemed unacceptable by our family of origin, our peers and society at large. Depending on how well we adapt to the expectations around us dictates how we learn to perceive our self worth. It also dictates what parts of ourselves we keep hidden and what parts of ourselves we present to the world around us. Can you remember in the innocence of childhood perhaps when you were ashamed for just expressing your true self? (Perhaps it was a young boy appearing too affeminate or a girl acting too masculine, (typical gender expectations), or showing emotions that made others uncomfortable?)
When our real self comes in conflict with an ideal version of ourselves that we cannot achieve or have not yet obtained then shame can be a byproduct. This is where dangerous distorted self beliefs can be born such as "I am not enough," or "I am inherently bad."
I think it is common to present a version of ourselves to everyone we meet, a version of ourselves to friends, a different version to those closest to us such as a best friend, parent or spouse, and then a version that only we are aware of ourselves or still coming to know as we grow and mature.
It is important to also look at the positive side of shame which can serve as a guide to teach us which behaviors serve to enhance our wellbeing and those around us and which behaviors create pain and suffering for ourselves and those around us. Within our experience of this emotion we can have a guide that assists us in understanding our behaviors and how they either serve us or are detrimental to us.
I invite you to reflect on the following questions:
1. What (characteristics, inward emotions, outward qualities) comprises the you that everyone sees?
2. What (characteristics, inward emotions, outward qualities) comprises the you that people who meet you see?
3. What (characteristics, inward emotions, outward qualities) comprises the you that friends see?
4. What (characteristics, inward emotions, outward qualities) comprises the you that only your best friend, spouse, or close family member sees?
5. What (characteristics, inward emotions, outward qualities) comprises the you that only you see?
Now try and explore the deeper self that only you see and understand how aligned or misaligned it is with those parts that you share with those around you. I invite you to lean into any moments of shame that appear and seek to understand what they are telling you.