‘Guilt’ and ‘Shame’ can be easily confused, so why don’t we start there to find out what they are! Guilt is about something you have done, whether this may have been accidentally or intentionally. Shame on the other hand, is about who you are. This feels unchangeable and there is a deep rooted belief of being unworthy, unacceptable, bad or wrong.
The sense or feeling of shame can become so familiar that it is out of awareness and normally shows up when there may be a heightened response to a negative or even a positive remark. A criticism or judgement may produce a strong reaction within a person, however on the opposing side of this, a compliment, praise or sense of admiration from another may also offer a heightened response.
Below, I have identified 3 questions you may want to think about:
- How do we know we experience the feelings of shame?
If you were ignored, rejected, told off, ridiculed or criticised by parents or others growing up, with a reaction by them to withdraw or abandon you. If this was done on a regular basis, then you may experience feelings of shame in the present, as a result of this. This is often, but not always, rooted in childhood. Our thoughts, feelings and behaviours may change or divert away from experiencing the shame or when internal belief systems arise of; being worthless, not good enough, and a sense of failure or feeling less than those around you.
2. How do we manage the feelings of shame?
We do not express or release this emotion like we do feelings such as sadness or grief e.g. crying, fear, anger etc. We need to relieve shame through acceptance and a non-judgemental view of it. It is important to bring shame into the light, to make clear your feelings surrounding the shame, to recognise your triggers to shame and to make connections or notice patterns of behaviour, as a result to a shameful experience. Once recognised, you may want to try making different choices that are less hurtful to yourself. This can be done through allowing your internal dialogue to be kinder and gentler, letting your behaviours be less harmful to yourself or perhaps others, and accepting this is a past wound that is not true in the present.
3. How does shame impact your life?
Shame can serve towards being a positive function in that it can help to achieve a level of consciousness that can stop you from acting in ways that may hurt or cause pain to the people around you, such as friends or family, and most importantly, yourself! Shame on the other hand can be very disruptive and can sometimes lead people to avoid relationships, not be vulnerable, to conceal parts of themselves or hide away. Shame can contribute to feelings of low self-esteem, anxiety and depression.
Psychotherapists work with shame through recognising and attempting to understand it through the client’s experience of it, to acknowledge painful hidden experiences, and to recognise shame that may not be obvious. Most importantly, we break the silence surrounding it.
Don’t let the shadows of shame bring you darkness!