As I reflect on the past 13 years I reflect on the stages of my own evolving consciousness that I have had to go through – sometimes once, sometimes over and over and some right now. I hope what I have learned may help you.
Shame is often what get us started on a path of disordered eating, makes us feel bad about our bodies, causes us to be depressed, makes us engage in pathological lying, leads us to feel lonely and empty in our relationships with others, and makes us escape into addictions of all kinds.
As a self-conscious emotion, shame informs us of an internal state of inadequacy, unworthiness, dishonor, regret, or disconnection. Another person or a circumstance can trigger shame in us, but so can a failure to meet our own ideals or standards. Given that shame can lead us to feel as though our whole self is flawed it motivates us to hide or to do something to save face. So it is no wonder that shame avoidance can lead to withdrawal or to addictions that attempt to mask its impact.
Shame is often confused with guilt – an emotion we might experience as a result of a wrongdoing about which we might feel remorseful and wish to make amends. Where we will likely have an urge to admit guilt, or talk with others about a situation that left us with guilty feelings, it is much less likely that we will broadcast our shame. In fact, we’ll most likely conceal what we feel because shame does not make a distinction between an action and the self.
Any situation that devalues the self and triggers shame can also trigger anger or even rage. This includes situations that incite envy, stir up comparisons or evoke a fear of abandonment. The anger experienced by a person who is shamed is like an all-consuming poison and it occupies a great deal of conscious thought.
Regardless of the trigger, when shame is experienced the deterioration can be devastating. In addition to the typical emotions that can accompany shame, such as envy, anger, rage, and anxiety, we can also include sadness, depression, depletion, loneliness, and emptiness as a result. And this is where shame can become a dangerous emotion. When shame results in self-attack, it is overwhelming, and it can negatively color how you view yourself and how you assess the prospect of recovering your self-esteem.
As with all emotions, shame requires perspective however, our response to shame is shaped by all of our emotional memories. The accumulation of emotional experiences that reside in our memory script our responses when a particular emotion is activated in the present. For the most part, these neat little packages of emotional memories influence our decisions and how we govern our lives. Shame motivates us to save face and hide when the emotion is triggered. Hiding often accompanies behaviors that are themselves a trigger for further shame, such as addictions, compulsive behaviors, harsh self-criticism, or self-denigration.
The antidote to shame is love and self-compassion. However, since shame is such an interpersonal experience and is tied to how we view ourselves in relation to others, simply reciting self-affirmations or telling ourselves we love ourselves, will not produce any real results.
Since shame was created through an emotional experience the cure for shame must be “a corrective emotional experience”. Love for oneself has to come from the experience of being lovable or acceptable to others. One has to be able to open up to others, to show oneself as one is, and to experience that others can still love and accept one in their most vulnerable and exposed state.
Ironically, the greatest change in oneself and how one feels about oneself, doesn’t come from changing who one is, but rather from truly becoming who one is.
Too many people are embroiled in battles of self-improvement that are nothing but concealed manifestations of an underlying shame. The distance between who one truly is and who one feels a need to be in order to fit in, be normal, or be acceptable, is often the culprit of many of the psychological problems and is often what needs to be dealt with if a person is going to experience love and compassion.
Kevin T. Cahill is an award winning sales professional and consultant specializing in the art of managing change and achieving great results. As the founder of The Change Revolution, this international best selling author and speaker inspires men and women alike. As someone who has mastered the art of resilience and hope, Kevin’s philosophy as a clarity builder is strategic and results driven. Kevin’s passion is to equip individuals and organizations with a renewed sense of clarity and excitement, knowing that positive change will bring about positive gains. His exciting creation The Change Revolution offers a winning blueprint for navigating through change and achieving success.
Speaking inquiries email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 519-836-7989.