Six Practices to Combat Shame
BY: T. Franklin Murphy | June 2016 (edited April 10, 2022)
Shame weighs us down, interfering with healthy endeavors. We can lighten the weight of shame with these six approaches.
The sting of embarrassment burns as we protect against the pointing finger of inadequacy. Often the harsh judgment originates from within and not from actual social rejection. Shame keeps us social animals in line. The social bonds are essential for survival and fulfillment. But when on steroids, shame disrupts and destroys. Instead of encouraging healthy action it drives us into hiding, severing the very bonds that the emotion is designed to create.
Shame is a painful feeling of humiliation awakened from self-consciousness of perceived wrongs or foolish actions that expose our inadequacies to others. Shame is the embarrassment of how our action will be received by others. Our need for group acceptance pushes socially acceptable actions. We quickly learn not to pick our nose in class or laugh when someone recants a sorrowful experience. With a healthy sense of others, we avoid criminal behaviors in adulthood by marching to society norms.
But the correcting feelings guiding appropriate social action easily go haywire. The demands for acceptance can overwhelm—often a painful byproduct of a neglectful childhood. The work for appreciation and connection with disjointed parents never complete, lingers in adulthood, disrupting bonds, and driving non-stop anxiety. Every action stirs the familiar shame of inadequacy. The familiar pointing parental finger, now engrained in our psyche, pokes us in the chest and shouts, “Shame on you!”
The powerful weight of shame easily overwhelms and screeches appropriate action to a halt. Frozen in fear, we withdraw instead of connect. The slightest rebuff from an unwelcomed embrace, ignored request, or painful inattention sends our system into protective overdrive. We feel shame, our underlying fears are exposed, and a deep sense of unworthiness envelopes our soul. In despair, we wish to simply disappear. The powerful shame diverts psychic energy from productive connecting action to self-protective defenses.
"The work for appreciation and connection with disjointed parents never complete, lingers in adulthood, disrupting bonds, and driving non-stop anxiety."
Shame Can Live Deep Inside
But shame can be deeper and darker than over-reaction to actual rebuffs. Shame can live inside our minds, when we have adopted a negative global assessment of self. From this state, we construct damaging meaning from mundane interactions, supporting our hurtful beliefs about ourselves. The self-perceived defectiveness snowballs, building on faulty meanings, exaggerated encounters, and hurtful separations.
We are not condemned to life of shame. We can lighten the load and return to a healthier response to the nasty stings of unworthiness. We often need a skilled guide to hold our hand, directing us back to a more secure foundation, giving non-judging positive regard, and bringing faulty adaptations to light.
Improving Response to Shame
Successful escape from this debilitating disease of shame requires a holistic approach, addressing the hurt from many different angles. We can attend to the wound by implementing these six approaches:
We can live harmoniously with the occasional stings of shame, noting their presence, examining the context, and deciding whether the emotion is serving as an appropriate signal to suppress an action separating us from those we need or as a rebel from the past protecting us from threats that don't exist. As our awareness widens, and our practice in wellness improves, we no longer fear. We know relationships require attentiveness and we welcome the occasional evolutionary waves of feeling to signal a little closer examination to the dynamic give and take of human connection.
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