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Shame

If there are parts of your experience you have difficulty accepting and expressing with others, shame is a likely suspect.  At some time (or many times) your vulnerable expression was received with punishment, scorn, and teasing, or was simply ignored.  In the moment it was incredibly painful, though likely the memory of that pain has long been hidden from your awareness.  Shame moved in as an attempt to prevent you from feeling this pain again.  What remains is the mandate to "not be who you are" in some certain way, this is shame.  

In an ideal world, shame is a helpful alarm feeling that lets you know you are behaving out of integrity with your values, and helps bump you back onto a path that supports you.  Chronic shame, however, is a reactive pattern of conditioning that blocks life energy, transformation, and thriving relationships.  This kind of shame is often functioning at an imperceptible low level in the background.  It's easier to see through its symptoms.  Here are a few signs that chronic shame may be present:

  • Rationalizing*mistakes, decisions, or desires

  • Blaming others, an inability to take responsibility for choices or the impact of your behavior on others

  • An impulse to "fix" or control others through criticism, directives, or demands

  • Justifying your mistakes through comparison to others or complex arguments

    Assuming other's behaviors or feelings is a reflection of your failure or measurement of your worth

  • Looking for outside evidence that someone else might make the same mistake therefore you're ok.  

  • Feeling lifeless, shut down, depleted, depressed, or like you just don't enjoy things the way others seem to.

  • Avoiding eye contact or not noticing the experience of others, isolating yourself from others

  • Feelings & Sensations like:  high blood pressure, stomach ache, asthma, collapsing, fuzzy headedness, freezing, and shrinking inward.


Shame blocks access to parts of your experience.  For healing and transformation, you need access to all of your experience.  One definition of healing is that what was previously isolated in you is brought into the light of consciousness with compassion and empathy and can therefore integrate, allowing energy to flow freely.

For transforming shame, the larger picture to keep in mind is that for you to even consider accessing experiences that shame is blocking, new supportive conditions must be present.  There is to create or put yourself in situations and relationships that explicitly support, encourage, and embrace these parts of your experience that are hiding behind shame.  This might mean working with a therapist, creating a special sharing ritual with your partner/close friend, finding a compassionate communication practice group or class, and/or finding other intentional settings that provide a safe space for vulnerability.  (For more details on meeting shame see this article:  Bringing Light to Shame)

A second essential element in transforming shame is practicing new habits that support you staying grounded in the "goodness" of who you are. Goodness is a general term that I am using here to refer to any type of positive identity.  Shame is a form of limiting or negative identity.  Identity is a filter through which you perceive and sort experience.  If you imagine a large river of experience flowing through and see that as that river hits your filters it separates off into little rivulets.  Forming a strong positive identity is creating a filter that directs the river of experience in a way that empowers you.  For example, let's say you wrote a check that was returned for insufficient funds.  The receiver of the check contacts you and lets you know.  When this experience flows through the shame filter, you make it mean that you are a failure for not managing your account properly. When this experience flows through the filter of positive identity, you make it mean that you made a mistake and you can probably figure out how it happened and how to prevent it in the future.  Your essential "goodness" does not come into question, because it is rooted in something greater than day to day events.

Perhaps the most accessible practice you can do is to watch for the impulse to keep something hidden.  The impulse to keep something hidden tells you that shame is present and that to share what's happening you need a reliable source of compassion and acceptance.  Transforming shame happens in compassionate relationship with yourself and others.

Practice

Take a moment now to focus on your breath for one full inhale and one full exhale.  At the end of your exhale, set your intention to greet all your experience with acceptance and compassion.


*See this article on rationalization:  Rationalization that Keeps You Stuck

 

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