Shame is among the most corrosive of human emotions. It has the power to convince us that that little voice in our head is right. That voice which says “I knew you’d fail,” “You’ll never really be good enough,” and “Who would love you as yourself?” We spend a lifetime trying to avoid shame and we yet have a lifetime full of it.
It’s both an excruciating feeling and a universal one. Rich or poor, attractive or not, successful or struggling, we all experience shame, whether we admit it or not (and we usually don’t). Shame can shut us down or cause us to behave in the most destructive way to ourselves and others. From shame comes addiction, anger, depression … you name it.
I’m not a lover of Brené Brown (sorry friends who love her) but I recently read her description of shame as, “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.”
It’s no wonder that the last thing we want to do when we are gripped by shame is to talk about it. If we do, others may discover just how horrible we are. Which is why we say nothing.
But the less we talk about it, the more shame has power over our lives. The more it has power over us, the more we keep doing that which is shameful to us because that’s what we expect of ourselves.
The real truth is that as we name it and speak it, we can start to cut shame off at its knees.
We want people to admire us for what we can do or bring to the table. With shame, we worry about what will happen if they find out that we really have a dark background? We are certain that they will change what they think about who we are. That. Is. So. Wrong. That’s the burden that brings us down.
We must unhitch what we do from who we are.
I’ve been reading that the more we handle shame on our own, the more likely we are to let it eat us and cause us to resort to methods to mask it, like drugs, sex and lashing out at others. In a paper published in the journal Psychology and Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, and Practice, researcher Jessica Van Vliet found that a sense of connection helps boost our compassion for ourselves, meaning we are more likely to handle our shame rather than giving into our shame if we talk about it.
Shame is a destructive emotion because it convinces us that we’re bad, unlovable, and that we don’t deserve anything good in life. It causes us to spiral. To do more to confirm how bad we feel about ourselves. But, shame can’t live in the daylight. The more we acknowledge and share feelings of shame, the less it will control our life.