What is Shame?
Shame is an emotion that we often feel quite uncomfortable talking about. We often don’t spot it in ourselves, and it can cause us to feel quite anxious and low as it makes us feel “I am not good enough” or “I’m totally worthless”. What is shame and why do we feel it?
Shame is like all our emotions, necessary for our survival as a species. It was necessary for the good of the tribe, to stop incest to prevent inbreeding for example. It tells us deeply that something is amiss. Without it, we would have little chance to avoid making terrible mistakes or to make amends.
What does shame feel like?
We all know what it feels like: It is immediate and VERY physical. We may blush deeply (for example when someone pays us a compliment or criticises us), drop our head, hunch our body, break eye contact, have a sense of tunnel vision, a racing heart and a desperate need to leave the situation. It can make us feel very alone. We play the slow motion reel of a particular situation over and over again and retreat into ourselves. The best thing we can do feels totally counterproductive – practice courage and reach out – own our story and as soon as we can, tell someone who has earned the right to hear it. Someone we can count on to respond with compassion.
Shame and trauma
When people have experienced trauma, especially resulting from harm inflicted by another person, the sense of shame can be the hardest thing to recover from and shake off. The process takes courage and determination and requires that we are in a secure place, physically and emotionally. As long as our shame is hidden, there is nothing we can do about it. The more we avoid it, the worse it gets and we cannot change our “internalised” shame until we “externalise” it. This is far easier said than done – “internalised” means that the shame has become a part of you and been buried deep in the subconscious. So a major part of healing is to bring it back into the conscious, by becoming aware of the thinking patterns that rule your behaviour and induce your painful feelings. This generally this process does not mean talking about all the traumatic memories – it is the emotions you are trying to access and release.
Brene Brown social researcher has an amazing TEDtalk about shame – well worth viewing! She describes it as “an unspoken epidemic”.
Need some advice and support?
If you would like to talk over an issue that is troubling you and you would like to talk it over in complete confidentiality, call Alison Winfield, Mindfully Well Counselling Cork on 087 9934541.
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