Where does shame come from and how to deal with it

Has this happened to you: you saw a friend on the street, waved joyfully – and this turned out to be another person? Or for the first time you heard the word “pleonasm” in a conversation with friends and were afraid that it would be obvious that you did not understand what was meant?

Awkwardness and embarrassment, and fading, anxiety and a desire to hide, the pursuit of success and a constant feeling of dissatisfaction, as well as much more serious things – panic attacks, depression, addictions – all of them can be different manifestations of shame. Every day we encounter him, although we ourselves may not even be aware of it.

Shame is a negative reaction to ourselves, to who we are.

In shame we feel not as “necessary”, unworthy of love and respect of people important to us.

This is one of the most difficult experiences that a person may encounter.

Shame is ubiquitous – but why then do we rarely notice it in ourselves?

Let’s understand the nature of this feeling and how to cope with it.

What is shame

When thinking about shame, many come to mind specific events in which we notice our shame and can even name the moment of its appearance and the reason.

This is the so-called situational shame – it is tied to a specific case. It may seem that shame begins and ends with an event associated with it, but this is not so.

Shame is not discrete: you cannot feel it and forget it once.

The shame that appeared in a particular situation is based on our usual ideas about ourselves, on the feeling that something is wrong with us. He, as the tip of the iceberg, is a sign of deeper processes that affect the very center of our “I”.

Psychologists call this underwater part of the iceberg deep, toxic, or introjected shame.

“I don’t know how to sing or draw”, “If I don’t think carefully, I’ll say stupid” – it seems to us that we just know this to ourselves, that this is an obvious fact. But this is not so.

Once, whether in childhood, in adolescence, or in adulthood, we believed someone who said something similar about us, and we left the situation in the past when we received this “knowledge” about ourselves, and forgot about it.

It is painful to experience shame: we feel emptiness, heaviness, loneliness. We hide it from each other and from ourselves, because we are afraid that if we show our feelings, it will be even worse.

In shame we are very lonely. Alone when we try to hide our true self from others. We are lonely when we succeed and others don’t notice it (that is, we don’t notice ourselves!). Alone in constant tension: we are afraid that now everyone will see what we really are.

We try to seem successful, good-natured or nonchalant in conversation with other people and forget or do not have time to listen to our own feelings.

Deep shame can be easier to notice through actions and behaviors and only then find it in the sensations.

Why are we ashamed

For the first time, we experience shame in childhood. Shame – the feeling that I am “not like” as “necessary” – comes with the words of other people.

As a rule, we hear the first shameful phrases from parents:

“Why are you collecting all the puddles? All children, like children, walk calmly, you’re a dirty one! ”,“ Stop clowning around! You can’t stand still? “,” And aren’t you ashamed? Such a big boy, but crying! ”

But shame can appear in our life even before the phrase “Shame on you!”

The expressions of the parents’ faces (affable or gloomy), the tone with which they speak to us (calm or annoyed), the way we are held in our hands (warm or detached and with tension) – all these subtle relationships, views, gestures help shape our self-knowledge becomes the foundation of our sense of self.

Through the attitude of adults – supporting and accepting, or, conversely, cool and rejecting – the child receives a sense of self-worth or, conversely, a sense of uselessness and abandonment (that same deep shame).

Children are incredibly sensitive: the situation of the ban seems to most of us adults to be neutral, but for a child everything is different.

If in the first months of life, parents enthusiastically join in any activity of the baby (reaching for a rattle – “How great!”, Trying to sit down – “How big you are!”), Then they have a new task: to ensure the safety of an increasingly restless the child.

Scientists have calculated: when a child is 10 months old, almost all adult attention (90%) is directed at encouraging and supporting his activity. When he turns 13 months old, the adult gives a restraining or prohibitive message every nine minutes.

What happens at the time of the ban at the level of physiology? Braking and stopping where the child felt aroused, expecting something pleasant, suddenly a positive affect interrupts – all this is accompanied by a shock-like biochemical reaction.

This forced restructuring (an interrupted cycle of pleasure, a quick suppression of arousal, a sharp slowdown in heart rate) is a great stress for a child’s body.

The child enters a state that is not yet able to adjust automatically, which is typical for situations of helplessness and hopelessness.

And the main component of this state is shame: a reaction to a forced stop, the need to restrain oneself.

Parents are not able to protect the child from the first disappointments: to discover the boundaries and limitations of the world is one of the aspects of growing up.

But it is important that parents find a way to support the little person in this difficult process.

What happens to the relationship between parent and child in a ban situation? “My mother was just nearby, warm, affectionate, but something happened – and now she is looking coldly and angrily.” “What happened? Did I do something wrong? I’m probably bad myself, since my mother behaves like that to me,” the child decides.

Shame comes when a child also hears “you are bad” or “I reject you.”

If in prohibitive phrases love and care emanating from the parent are heard, this becomes a valuable lesson – so the child learns to regulate himself in situations when something is not available to him.

He learns that you can simultaneously feel intimacy with another person and be disappointed at the inability to get something. Through these first encounters with the borders of the world, the child comes to the ability to notice, maintain and respect boundaries.

Shame is not only a childhood experience, it also applies to current relationships. If a person has a feeling of shame, then something (and in fact, someone) provoked him right now.

And vice versa, if the other person is in shame right now in contact with you, you are involved in this: you are doing something that actualizes this experience in him.

Paradoxically, although we experience shame as loneliness, or as our flaw that causes this loneliness, we never experience it “alone with ourselves”.

Take a closer look: even when there is no one around, a figure always looms in our memories – someone who behaved scornfully, devalued, did not notice us, did not know how to react, was careless with us, and so on.

There is always someone else who shares with us the responsibility for the emergence of feelings of shame – and this is the most important remark for those who are looking for ways to support themselves or others in this situation.

How to deal with shame

To notice and acknowledge shame is the first step to freeing yourself from it. It is extremely difficult to realize this experience, to see it directly in the moment and, as it were, from the side. As a rule, this feeling itself becomes the main barrier to this.

Remember any embarrassing situation: when confronted with it, we try to hide our confusion.

This is because shame is also embarrassing. In a state of shame, we feel vulnerable: our fragility, the fact that we depend on how other people treat us, becomes noticeable.

The individualistic values ​​that are now popular (“I must cope on my own”, “Man must be strong”) make it shameful that we are dependent on other people. In addition, we have almost no “dictionary” of shame: there are no suitable words to express what we feel, and our experiences become vague and incomprehensible.

This is due to the fact that we are not used to looking for names for them, as well as to the fact that shame first appears at an early age, in the preverbal period of development – when words do not exist for us at all.

There is one more reason.

If you just feel ashamed, it’s painful to fully live it, feel deeply.

In shame, we feel that we are not reaching a certain “standard”: “we do not deserve” the love and respect of people important to us, “unworthy” of the society of those who are interesting and dear to us.

We are unconsciously seeking any means of avoiding shame. We turn our attention to something else, get mad at ourselves or at someone else, watch TV shows all weekend long, drink alcohol or smoke one cigarette after another, fanatically take care of ourselves or work for wear – there are many loopholes and ways to turn our back on our own shame .

How can shame be noticed? First of all, ask myself directly: do I feel it right now? Try to take a break, breathe, listen to your bodily sensations.

Pay attention to any muscle tension, similar to the desire to hide, disappear. Sometimes, for example, you may notice how in shame we round our back and shoulders, pull our head in, tighten our stomach, as if trying to group, shrink, shrink.

Another characteristic sign of shame is a look: when we are ashamed, it is very difficult for us (often it just seems impossible) to raise our eyes, look at others, especially those who, with their presence, cause this feeling in us.

In addition, shame can be noticed by breathing: we begin to breathe intermittently and superficially, for a long time we hold in or out breath. And sometimes it seems that we are not breathing at all.

What are the emotions and feelings in this situation? Common components of shame are confusion, confusion, fear. We perceive ourselves as small among adults, as stupid among smart, as boring among funny – we feel a cardinal and fatal difference from others, the inability to be accepted, to be “together with everyone”.

Anger, discontent, aggression – a popular mask of shame. This is another way that consciousness resorts to avoid collision with shame, to switch energy to something abstract.

Among the typical thoughts, of course, all forms of dissatisfaction with myself are in the lead: “How have I never thought before ?!”, “I always do stupid things!”, “Tomorrow I’ll start a new life!”, “It’s unforgivable to ride such a ruin!”

Often with these thoughts in the kit comes the imperative “I have to”: “I have to look after myself”, “I have to resolve this issue”, “I have to finish the job”, “I have to be kinder” and so on. These thoughts are the hardest to catch.

Learn your “language of shame.” Finding shame in a situation from the past is always easier (and safer) than in the current one.

Remember the different situations, and if you find traces of embarrassment or shame in them, pay special attention to your feelings.

Perhaps you are withdrawing into yourself, getting upset and drooping, or perhaps rushing into battle, mentally attacking the shameful in return, putting on a mask of superiority or carelessness.

Study your reactions to shameful situations – perhaps at some point right in such a situation you will suddenly notice a characteristic thought or gesture and remember: “Oh, it seems that happens to me when I’m ashamed.”

Training mindfulness and sensitivity to shame radically changes the experience itself. It ceases to be invisible and elusive, “detaches” from the background of our life and takes on specific forms and outlines.

It’s not just “I feel somehow strange”, but “I feel that I’m all cringing, that it’s hard for me to look at my interlocutor, I barely breathe and feel miserable. I’m upset, but I can’t feel sorry for myself, it seems to me that it’s my fault that I am so. It seems like I’m terribly ashamed right now. ”

One more step – and you can see what pain this experience brings us. One more step – and you can start talking about it.

Shame is an experience of inner isolation, loneliness, incomprehensibility and rejection.

One of the surest antidotes to it is to share feelings with another person significant to you.

Often shame arises when we are in contact with people whom it is difficult for us to trust. In such a situation, a preliminary detached conversation can help.

Read about shame together, discuss this topic with abstract examples, or recall situations that have happened to you before. It will be easier to return to this topic if shame arises directly between you.

Such a conversation can clarify the situation and restore confidence in the relationship, but it is important to approach it carefully, carefully find the optimal form so as not to blame or shame the other person in response.

When we are faced with shame, we need the support of those around us. We feel that we are moving away from people important to us, and we feel the need to reconnect with them so that they accept us as we are.

This need is a good opportunity to tactfully and gently talk about your shame with those who, in our opinion, are involved in it. Such a conversation can be the beginning of a large and significant discussion, this is an opportunity to share desires and expectations from each other.

In such a conversation, we again begin to feel our significance for another person. Which means getting rid of shame.

10 thoughts on “Where does shame come from and how to deal with it

  1. Insightful. The subject of shame is an interesting one. Shame serves no purpose and is detrimental to a persons well being and learning capacity yet society continues to enforce codes of behavioural control which includes shame as a weapon and tool. There is change in this sector and I hope it continues until all children are able to grow up without shame as part of their culture

  2. Pretty detailed analysis. I would agree that a lot of our view of self develops during childhood and we take a lot (good and bad) from parents. At the same time, I also believe that as adults, we have the wherewithal to think through our issues and move on. We cannot blame parents endlessly.

    1. Most adults who experience shame never blame their parents, even though they may be deserving. Adult survivors of child abuse typically only blame theirselves. The shame comes from taking ownership of everything and not being able to sort the truth. We must still work through our issues in order to move on. 💜

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