Shame – how to recognise and release it

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It’s time for key 6 from the chapter on childhood:

I embrace my inner child with love. I release all the childhood wounds I carry and all the responsibility I absorbed for events that happened around me.”

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Today’s main article – managing shame

According to recent research, shame is a survival mechanism.

The suggestion is that the feeling of shame is powerful enough to coerce us into behaving in socially “acceptable” ways, and this mechanism dates all the way back to ancient human groups when social acceptance was critical for survival.

“Our ancestors lived in small, cooperative social groups that lived by hunting and gathering. In this world, your life depended on others valuing you enough to give you and your children food, protection, and care,” said researcher and professor of anthropology John Tooby.

It therefore makes sense to me why children have evolved to assume responsibility for any perceived issue in their environment, with their shame acting as a warning of behaviour that might lead to their rejection. 

This doesn’t mean that shame is useful as a long term state of being, any more than it is helpful to live in a constant state of anger or anxiety. It might be protective in an acute situation –  a way of assessing whether certain behaviour brings connection or separation – but should then be released. That is why some parents try to reassure their children that a certain behaviour might not be appropriate, but that they are still deeply loved, that a ‘bad’ action does not mean a ‘bad’ person.  

Like love, shame is hard to describe in words. It is deep, silent, nuanced and complex, showing up in our behaviours, beliefs, posture and emotions.

Here are a few examples I have come across of how it might manifest:

  1. Feeling that can never do enough for other people.
  2. De-prioritising your own needs.
  3. Feeling undeserving of life, love or happiness.
  4. Loneliness, no-one is there for you.
  5. Self judgement and low self-esteem.
  6. Avoidance of deep connection.
  7. Low motivation and a sense of hopelessness.
  8. Low energy. 
  9. Acutely aware of how you look and what other people in the room are thinking about you.
  10. Hunched shoulders, bowed head, drooped posture, poor eye contact.
  11. Self sabotaging behaviour, eg addictions, obsessions or poor personal care.
  12. Difficulty receiving praise or compliments

I expect we all have shame at some level. For me, it feels like an inevitable life companion to some degree, like anxiety and anger. It sits in the shadowy places of our ego, but ideally with us in control of it rather than the other way around.

If we are to escape its effects, I suggest a few approaches:

  1. Acknowledge that it is there, and talk to someone about it if it feels OK to do so.
  2. Explore where it came from. Did your parents validate you or make you feel small? If you know its origins, you can change your perspective and avoid taking on parental projections.
  3. When you feel other uncomfortable emotions, like anger or anxiety, look for the shame that might be lying beneath.
  4. Stop projecting it onto other people. If you feel yourself judging others, it could be coming from your own self judgement.

Basically, be aware, own it, forgive yourself. However lost we may become on our life’s journey, I don’t believe that anyone is inherently shameful. In the words of Darryl Anka:

You are all worthy; if you weren’t all worthy, believe me, you would not exist, because creation does not make mistakes. Thus, if you exist you belong; there is a reason why creation is not complete without you. Stop arguing with creation. Take it at its word; if you exist, you deserve to exist and if you deserve to exist you deserve to be who you are as fully as you possibly can. This is just simple logic”

With love


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