SHAME – WHAT IS IT AND WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT.
When we are small children and do something wrong in front of our primary care givers, usually our parents, we cover our eyes with shame. We do this as adults in front of others too covering our eyes when embarrassed, usually uttering words or self-rapprochement – Oh No!
We all were told off by our parents and teachers at some time and we got over it without creating belief systems that we are not okay in the world. However, if the shame is felt as continual reflections from our parents, teachers, peers and others, we develop ingrained feelings that we are constantly disappointing others – we are not good enough.
Childhood experienced shame can continue throughout adulthood with constant feelings of being disappointing in the world. That word disappointing is very powerful. We also develop adolescent shame about a wide variety of self-disclosures from sexual identity, not meeting parents’ expectations, failing at learning or work and many other personal behaviours that did not meet the expectations of others.
Let’s look at different ages with shame. When we are children, and without any real sense of power in the world, we do not know how to deal with these feelings of disappointing others. When these feelings of shame happen, it goes right to the core of our being where we want to withdraw from the world for not being worthy. We want to cover our face with our hands. But maybe it was totally unfair for others to make us constantly feel this way? Maybe it was in actual fact emotional abuse?
When an adult it is helpful to reflect on that wounded child within and visit him or her and retell the stories of this unfairness. It is through retelling these stories the wounded child within can heal him or herself. If not the stories and cruel messages of being disappointing sit constantly underneath the adult experience.
How do you communicate with the wounded child within? Well you write letters or stories to this wounded child, putting your adult arms around him or her and reflect on the fairness of the judgments of others. Were you actually a child that experienced the world in wonder only to be crushed by unfairness? Maybe you were not an angel but still felt wrong a lot for just being you. Writing it down externalises the experiences by your own self reflection..
I want to talk about the term Agency. Having Agency means shameful feelings can be addressed because of the power of your unspoken voice that says I am not disappointing others; I am only disappointing myself with these feelings -I am not a bad person!
Having Agency means you can talk to that negative inner belief system and heal with more positive thoughts and feelings. We all make mistakes in life as an adult where we experience shame and we can heal these with thoughts on all the good parts of ourselves.
However healing childhood or adolescent shame requires opening up the many stories that created it; to look at the fairness of it, to challenge the right or the authority of those who reflected back those shameful feelings and to visit all the positive stories of things done well and the personal drives to do good things. Were you really disappointing?
Gerry North is a couple counsellor and also treats depression, anxiety, panic attacks, loss and grief plus additions. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.