People talk about physical fitness, but mental health is equally important. I see people suffering, and their families feel a sense of shame about it, which doesn’t help. One needs support and understanding. I am now working on an initiative to create awareness about anxiety and depression and help people.
Shame is a painful emotion responding to a sense of failure to attain some ideal state. Shame encompasses the entire self. The thought process in shame involves self-focused attention. The physical expressions of shame include the blushing face, slumped with head down, eyes averted. It generates a wish to hide, to disappear or even to die.
Shame is the inner experience of being “not wanted.” It is feeling worthless, rejected, cast-out. Guilt is believing that one has done something bad; shame is believing that one is bad. Shame is believing that one is not loved because one is not lovable. Shame always carries with it the sense that there is nothing one can do to purge its burdensome and toxic presence. Shame cannot be remedied, it must be somehow endured, absorbed, gilded, minimized or denied. Shame is so painful, so debilitating that persons develop a thousand coping strategies, conscious and unconscious, numbing and destructive, to avoid its tortures. Shame is the worst possible thing that can happen, because shame, in its profoundest meaning, conveys that one is not fit to live in one’s own community.
The Burden of Shame:-
Shame-bound persons, believing themselves to be seriously flawed, without worth, and hardly belonging in the world inevitably have the consequences of their shame-consciousness show up very negatively in many areas of their life:
At the core of the shame-bound person is a failure of self-esteem. As one feels dishonored and without belonging, then feeling good about oneself, feeling confident in one’s abilities is inevitably lost. With one’s boundaries mushy and one’s sense of oneself as “flawed,” one hardly has a self at all, let alone one to feel high regard for. “Shaming” a person makes him as low as he can go. For a person who has been shamed has no way out, his is the feeling of there being nothing he can do to set things right. Something vague, but decisive, has shrunk his soul.
The shame-bound person may become either an offender or a victim, or, as is most likely, one who vacillates from one mode to the other. If his experiences cause him to access his shame, he may take out his hurt and rage on others weaker than himself in his present community of family and friends. For another person whose defense is less aggressive, if she is re-shamed, she may fall into her accustomed role of victim, as she is naturally adept in this guise, having been an actual victim in her original family. Having learned to make a “virtue” of necessity, she has mastered playing the victim for what consolation rewards there are–some sympathy, some self-righteousness. For the offender there is some momentary sense of revenge and power, for the victim, a brief touch with martyrdom–and beyond these meager compensations, the despair of impotence and participation in the continuing of the cycle of shame. The shame of the parents becomes the shame of the children, and so on…
The shame-bound person has difficulty with intimate relationships.
Feeling so bad about herself, she does not wish another to know her, expecting for sure that he will see what a shameful creature she is. So she puts up a false front, she pretends and postures and does all the things she believes others will be impressed by, but she can never do that which is the essence of intimacy, reveal herself to another in open risk taking.
Depression often possesses the shame-bound person. Depression is the stuck place between anger and grief. The person who feels no sense of self-worth will not know how to get angry, for that would be too much aggression for him who was brought up with such a fragmented sense of being entitled to respect. On the other hand, the shame-possessed person cannot grieve, for it was much too disappointing and painful to dare to believe that he could be genuinely important to another, or vice versa. Depression is marked by alienation and no real opportunity to bring things back together. At the center of depression is the sense of loss, and the shame-bound person carries the greatest loss of all, the loss of a valued self. The loss is made more difficult to emerge from as one recognizes that he is only partially aware of the dimension of his loss, having been deprived of the experience of and the model for respectful caring and nurturing.
The shame-bound person is controlling, rigid, and perfectionistic.
She has had to compensate for having not felt a sense of love. Her experience of “love” is the opposite of the highly touted, idealized concept of “unconditional love”. Shame comes from all “love” being conditional. Which, of course means that the love is never complete, never a comment on the person as she is, but as she pleases her parents by satisfying their expectations and demands. So she attempts to put life in “perfect” order to compensate for the chaos in the relationships of her heart. Not feeling the warmth of love, she needs desperately to control the world and is not able to tolerate deviation. In a loveless world, “doing things right” brings the only rewards she can attain. She lives very carefully, for a slip can cause her to lose her fragile hold on things.
The shame-bound person clings to his image, after all it is the most positive thing he has going for him. He believes that within he has no real self, that he is not loved, or respected, or needed, so he must make himself loveable, appear respectable, and create the illusion of being indispensable to others. He works hard at it. He lives by his false-self, often bouncing between an over- and under-inflated presentation of himself. He does not strive for self-fulfillment, only for self-image fulfillment.
The shame bound person is numb and/or spaced-out. Life is so painful as-it-is that she takes the way of self hypnosis, or enters a self-induced trance-state in order to make her experience bearable. She lives anesthetized, and feeling as little pain as possible. Of course, neither can she feel passion or pleasure.
Shame is, indeed, pervasive and profound. It doesn’t fix easily, for it is a condition of our psyche and our soul. But with courage, attention and plain hard work healing is possible. Here are some thoughts for healing your shame:
Let yourself learn, through and through, that your shame is not your fault.:- Most of your shame-inducing experiences happened to you early in your life–when you were small and the world of parents and other caretakers loomed very large. Your fundamental feelings of insignificance, the “shame” that goes far back in your mind and soul, appeared long before you had any “choices” in the matter. Shame was your natural organismic response to the burdens and demands that were being visited on you by your family. Believing that making you ashamed would motivate you to behave as they wished (The demands of a dysfunctional shame-bound family are irrational and inconsistent, for the family only knows it is unhappy and does not know what would make things better. The child becomes the scapegoat for the family’s incompetency in solving its problems-in-living.), your parents intended you to feel shame about yourself for your “bad” behavior. Sometimes, they even rationalized that shaming you was “for your own good.” However, what actually happened was that they only succeeded in making you feel bad about being yourself, for you did not possess what they were demanding as you had neither the power nor the talent to change yourself in order to enter into their good graces. But, being children, you could not grasp that your parents were the dysfunctional persons in the family; you knew of no one’s failures but those attributed to you by the grown-ups. Your only “guidance” was that which helped you feel awful–shame–about yourself for failing to produce….I repeat, it was not your fault.
Face shame, experience it, incorporate it :-As you are your memories, your history, your joys and your talents, you also are your experience of shame. There is no escaping any part of yourself, your shame experiences are in your neurons and your body cells. What you can learn is not to deny or finesse them, but to face them, own them, and incorporate them into yourself. After all, they are only painful memories, not imperious demons. They cannot hurt you again as they did before–though you may believe they can–for you are not vulnerable as you were when you were small. Some things have changed and one of them is the perspective and position you have as adults to confront and not be done-in by the shaming experiences the world offers you.
There is nothing shameful about shame. You have every right to yours. You earned it by surviving in the midst of shaming people. There is a great community of the shamed waiting to dare to trust others enough to be open and vulnerable. Sharing your shame with them will be a way of forming a strong and rejuvenating ties with others. There is no more powerful bond than that of shared shame transformed into a bond of understanding and mutual support for one another’s healing.
Replace shame with mature guilt :-Guilt has often received bad press, and well it should–if, and only if, you are talking about neurotic guilt–guilt that self-flagellates and changes nothing. If you are talking about mature guilt, then guilt is one of the great inventions of nature. For mature guilt lets you know what is unacceptable, and offers you opportunity to do something about it. Shame, on the other hand comes to you as a feeling so deep and so incapable of your getting a grasp on it that it seems there is nothing you can do. To illustrate: John feels shame that he is not the sort of person who can ever excel at his work. Whatever happens, a demotion, a “blowing-out” by his boss, he senses that this is because he is “basically inadequate,” so he hangs his head and lowers his eyes and dampens his energy. Finding the “smarts” and the courage to re-evaluate himself as “guilty” of inertia and poor training, he begins to create and achieve goals that are possible for him. So if he sets certain standards, and then if he doesn’t achieve them, he can rightly feel guilty that he is failing and can increase his efforts to succeed, or redefine his goals. He has moved into consciousness that his worth can be defined by realistic possibilities, not by the un-focused and “hidden” demands of shame-making expectations.
Make new parents:- You must learn from experience that you are not unworthy of belonging to the human community and that in order to heal your shame you must create a healthy family for yourself. Think of an occasion when you have stood against those who would make you feel bad about yourself. Think of how you counted on the thought of a friend, or lover, or teacher whose opinion you could depend on to back you in your struggle. It made a difference. It made the crucial difference is keeping you going and anchoring the experience as a positive for you.
You must create a new family. Perhaps this sounds strange, but you are already doing it–clubs, churches, professional societies are efforts; lovers, friends, marriages are efforts; even cliques, cults, and gangs are efforts. The success or failure of your journey to heal your shame will be crucially influenced by your ability to surround yourself with those who think you are lovable, who support you, who back you up in the way you lead your life, who can convey to you that they are for you even when they don’t like your behavior–and toward whom you can healthily reciprocate.