Shame On You !
“You should be ashamed of yourself, I’m so disappointed in you “.
“What’s wrong with you ! “
“ You are a troublemaker !”
“ You should not feel that way “
“ Your sister is better at that than you “
“ Are you having another ice cream ?”
“ Why don’t you get it , its easy ?”
“ Stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about !”.
How many of us heard that as a child growing up in the 50s 60s and 70s ? As a therapist seeing the effects of shame on people and how they live their lives , I sometimes I wonder how we could ever grow up with a good sense of self and self-esteem! Lucky a lot of experienced love, nurturing and belonging as well, to mitigate these quite damaging interactions . These days comments like this would stick out like a sore thumb in the age of positive psychology and the understanding the role that poor or harsh parenting plays in the lives of our children. However, this type of parenting still lingers on , especially in more traditional homes where children are still seen and not heard and are seen as belonging to their parents and there is little room for autonomy and independence In fact being a product of this kind of childhood means that we as parents can then go on to pass these types of interactions down to our children without understanding its impact or the long term fall out .
I can remember a number of incidences whereas I child I felt shame. I remember I was playing Blind Mans Bluff with a friend, and she was blindfolded and walked into the gate. I found that so funny and was enjoying our interaction . Two parents from the neighbour hood were watching and said to me with obvious distain “ that’s a fake laugh , that’s not real , stop it , you are annoying “. My heart sank and I felt that I was being judged and shamed for being me , who was a noisy, energetic, and playful kid. I was reminded of it recently when I read my 12-year-old diary again , that day certainly must have had an impact on me to write it down.
I have often felt that I was too much for people . This shamed theme continued throughout my life , whenever I received feedback about my “ personality “ . It has led to me believing that I have a big mouth, feisty and too many opinions and that I am according to some men I know “ high maintenance “. You would not have that said to a woman would you ?
Every time I hear those sorts of comments I would feel a bolt of heat seize my chest and I was singed. It ok to comment on what we do , isn’t it ? but WHO WE ARE is another entirely different issue . The intensely painful feeling that we are somehow flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging We feel like something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection.
Brene Brown has some very cool YouTube videos out on shame and vulnerability , she’s spent a lifetime studying its impacts on people especially from our childhood . Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, has extensively studied shame and vulnerability. She has authored several books on the topic, including “The Gifts of Imperfection,” “Daring Greatly,” and “I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn’t): Making the Journey from ‘What Will People Think?’ to ‘I Am Enough.'”
Brown researched 12 categories of shame that are the most familiar in the human experience include: appearance and body image, money and work, motherhood and fatherhood, family, parenting, mental and physical health, addiction, sex, aging, religion, surviving trauma, and being stereotyped and labelled. I bet everyone reading his can spot a domain where shame has played a role in their life and perhaps the curtailing of the self-growth in that area. I know I could tick a few of those boxes .
It’s interesting to me that the age of social media and social commentary has seen this shaming of others explode , and we are seeing in real time that the world that was once hidden from us ( generally ) that is the judgmental mind of those around us has now become launched to our social accounts and we experience the profound and often shocking thoughts that people have about us . Not only that but the misinterpretation misunderstanding, and vitriol is gargantuan . There is a lot of pain fear and frustration in the world, and it seems social media has become a plat form and a vehicle for that hate . And we are the punching bags . The residual shame we already feel from our childhood encounters is magnified and intensified now that we have the world commenting on our clothes, our skin our voice and our intelligence .
I even had one commenter try to shame me by telling me he was going to “ report “ me to my governing body I had a different perspective to him on the World Soccer kiss scandal, which was recently in the news. As if an independent counsellor is not entitled to her opinions ? My reaction was to delete my comment as I knew that if that is what one commenter would post , what other ridiculous assumptions would others make about me ? I wasn’t ashamed of my comment, but I was fearful of the lash back. It’s a scary and unsafe place to be in.
Brown’s research on shame emphasizes its destructive power on individuals’ lives and relationships. She defines shame as the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love, belonging, or connection. According to Brown, shame thrives in secrecy, silence, and judgment. She believes that shame is very different to guilt which is more to do with the behaviours we engage in that are deceitful , cruel, or unethical. So, for example if you steal and are caught it is right to feel guilty that you did something wrong otherwise we would have a world full of opportunistic thieves on every corner ! We need guilt to reign us in , but shame ? Shame is the cancer that eats at our potential and keeps us in a mental prison for which we have the key but refuse to use it . We don’t deserve that key do we ?
Brown’s work also highlights the importance of vulnerability and authenticity in overcoming shame. She argues that by acknowledging and embracing our vulnerabilities, we can cultivate a sense of worthiness and connection. Rather than hiding our imperfections or pretending to be someone we’re not, Brown encourages people to show up authentically and wholeheartedly, even if it means risking rejection or judgment. I had that recently with a job interview where I was totally honest about my limited experience in that particular arena. I knew I was laying it on the line , but I figured if it comes back to me , then it was meant to be , if not then there will be something else lining up for me somewhere in the future . It’s not something 30 years ago I would have allowed myself the comfort of. Instead, I would ruminate and self-flagellate for days . Growing old has its pluses LOL !!
Additionally, Brown emphasizes the role of empathy and compassion in combating shame. She believes that empathy involves connecting with others on an emotional level and recognizing their humanity, flaws, and struggles. By extending empathy to ourselves and others, we can create a culture of compassion that fosters resilience and healing. In a way its healing that inner child , the young version of ourselves that was looking for love, connection, and unconditional acceptance of who we are irrespective of what we did “ wrong “
Recovering from shame can be a challenging process, but it’s definitely possible with self-compassion, understanding, and support.
Here are some steps you can take to begin the journey of recovering from shame:
Recognize and acknowledge your feelings: Understand that it’s okay to feel shame, but also recognize that it doesn’t define you as a person. Accept that feeling ashamed is a natural human emotion, and it doesn’t make you any less worthy.
Identify the source of your shame: Try to pinpoint what triggered your feelings of shame. Was it something you did, something someone said, or a situation you found yourself in? Understanding the root cause can help you address it more effectively.
Challenge negative thoughts: Shame often stems from negative self-talk and unrealistic expectations. Challenge these thoughts by questioning their validity. Are you being too hard on yourself? Would you judge someone else as harshly as you’re judging yourself?
Practice self-compassion: Treat yourself with kindness and understanding. Remind yourself that everyone makes mistakes and experiences moments of embarrassment or regret. Practice self-compassionate phrases like,
“I am human and imperfect, and that’s okay,” or “I deserve forgiveness and understanding, just like anyone else.”
Overall, Brown’s work on shame emphasizes the importance of vulnerability, authenticity, empathy, and compassion in overcoming shame and cultivating a sense of worthiness and connection. She encourages individuals to embrace their imperfections, share their stories, and lean into discomfort as they strive for greater authenticity and connection in their lives.
Practice forgiveness: Forgive yourself for any perceived shortcomings or mistakes. Holding onto grudges, whether against yourself or others, only perpetuates feelings of shame and negativity.
Seek professional help if needed: If feelings of shame are significantly impacting your mental health and well-being, consider seeking help from a therapist or counsellor who can provide guidance and support tailored to your individual needs.
Remember, recovering from shame is a process that takes time and effort. Be patient with yourself and celebrate the small victories along the way. You are worthy of love, acceptance, and forgiveness, just as you are.