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Shame, Criticism, & Requests

If you are like most people, you grew up in an environment that was either bereft of feelings and needs or one that shamed, dismissed, and belittled your attempt to express feelings and needs.  Both of these experiences leave you unsure of your right to experience any feelings and needs.  So much so that when a strong feeling and need arises, an immediate shame reaction can arise simultaneously.

Shame often functions on an unconscious level. It functions like a voice in the background telling you that something is wrong with you if you have feelings and needs, that you are somehow broken and others don't experience what you experience.  Since being in contact with shame without support could be debilitating, you find ways to move away from it.

One of the most common ways to move away from shame is to criticize others.  Criticizing and attacking others moves attention away from authentic feelings and needs and the shame that arises with them, while at the same time allowing an indirect and limited expression of feelings and needs.  The unconscious thinking error here is that you have to make the other person wrong, for your feelings and needs to be valid.  

As you attempt to make requests and hear requests from others, you face both sides of this dynamic.  You likely have some shame around feelings and needs and so find it challenging to make a request.  You have also likely been on the receiving end of someone making you wrong, so when you hear a request you might tighten and defend whether there is any criticism or not.  So how can you begin to detangle this sticky web of shame and criticism with regards to requests?

True requests from the framework of Compassionate Communication not only require the courage and confidence to stand in the validity of your feelings and needs, but also creativity and an ability to negotiate.  It's no small thing to ask yourself to be direct with an expression of feelings, needs, and specific requests.  

Finding the courage and confidence to make true requests is something that requires support from those who can consistently embrace your vulnerability and thus create a space for you to bring shame into the light where it can be healed. People who can genuinely be present for vulnerability tend to set clear and direct boundaries, engage in consistent self-care, offer more empathy than advice, listen more than they talk, and are able to share their own vulnerability in a context that honors such sharing.

When you are with such people, you can work toward dissolving shame by sharing little bits of vulnerability at a time and mindfully taking in the new experience of being received with care.  Just naming an impulse to criticize or defend, pausing to focus on a full inhale and exhale, and watching the impulse until it falls away, helps to interrupt the cycle of shame.  As your relationship to feelings and needs becomes one of acceptance and allowing, you will find that requests become a simple and accessible part of every day life.


Take a moment now to celebrate the places in your consciousness that are free from shame, by naming three true requests you made with ease recently.

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1 Response

  1. May 19, 2016
    sherry taylor

    thank you

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