What is shame?
Shame researcher Brene Brown defines shame as a normal and universal human emotion, and is also one of the most painful emotions that makes us believe that we are flawed or unworthy. It is an intense negative emotion that hits the core of a person’s being. Shame is commonly confused with guilt. Shame is an emotion that reflects the deep-rooted feelings of the self. Guilt is a feeling about our behaviors. We feel guilty about actions we’ve taken and often try to repair, we feel shame about who we are as a person and often try to hide. Feelings of shame can cause individuals to be constantly critical of themselves, often finding something to criticize about their appearance, behavior, or personality; and even causing individuals to be critical of others. Research by Loader describes the emotion of shame as the inner experience when we feel uncovered and when private aspects of the self are unwillingly revealed, such as our physical bodies, actions, or thoughts. Shame often arises when we are perceived differently than we want to be seen by others. Shame results in urges to hide or withdraw. Instead of acknowledging shame, usually other feelings are used to hide shame. Shame is often hidden with avoidance, anger, and at the more severe level, substance abuse. When shame is acknowledged, individuals are able to thrive within their authentic beings and connect more with others. The only way to heal our shame is by talking about it, which begins with an awareness of it.
How does shame affect our thoughts?
It is easier to acknowledge our feelings of shame when we recognize our thoughts. Most thoughts that are negative judgments about ourselves as a person are often related to feelings of shame. These are some examples of thoughts that are related to feelings of shame:
There’s something wrong with me
No one will ever love/like me
I am not enough
I am inferior to those around me
I am not important to others
I am a failure
I am unworthy
Have you noticed any of these thoughts, or similar thoughts, in your own life?
A big step to dealing with shame is becoming aware of your thoughts related to shame, and making attempts to shift your thoughts.
How does shame affect our relationships?
Shame makes us want to withdraw and hide, which is detrimental to our ability to connect with others. Shame leads to us feeling disconnected, isolated, and lonely. We long to be in fulfilling relationships, however, our feelings of shame often prevent us from authentically connecting within these relationships. Shame arises within relationships when an individual feels judged, and when one feels they are perceived in a negative way, which will enhance the need to withdraw. We fear that if we show our true selves to those we are closest to, they will not like us or will judge us. This leads us to connect with others by not truly connecting. We are not our authentic selves within our relationships because we have hidden aspects about us that are important to share. Relationships require a vulnerability, however, this vulnerability is often avoided. The very things that enhance our authenticity are the things we avoid the most. Acknowledging our shame and embracing vulnerability are key to being authentically ourselves, and in authentic connection with others.
How is shame interfering in your relationships with others? Are you authentically connecting with others?
Brown, B. (2012). Daring greatly: How the courage to be vulnerable transforms the way we live, love, parent, and lead. New York: Gotham Books
Loader, P. (1998). Such a shame—A consideration of shame and shaming mechanisms in families. Child Abuse Review, 7(1), 44-57.