But what is shame?
It’s has gotten a good deal of press lately. But there’s a problem. We don’t know what it is.
Well, to be more precise, we don’t know how to be … well, precise.
The main problem is our language. I don’t mean the language we use about shame. I literally mean the English language!
You see, shame is more than one thing. For starters, it’s is a feeling. My kids call it “feeling embarrassed.” And that makes sense. We often experience shame when we’re embarrassed about something we said or did. This is especially true when we ask ourselves, “So, is there something wrong with me?” That question often evokes other feelings. We don’t like coming face to face with our limitations and weaknesses. So, we usually try to get away from these feelings. Have you ever gotten mad at yourself for making a mistake? You have felt the full weight of the emotion of shame.
That leads us to the next aspect. It’s a feeling, but it’s also a state of consciousness. Chip Dodd refers to shame as “the needy feeling.” The trouble with that is…we don’t like being needy! Think about the last time someone referred to you (or the last time you referred to someone else) as “needy.” Was that a good thing?
Neediness. Limitation. Humanity in general…it’s embarrassing. It’s, well, a recurring nightmare of shameful feelings. This experience is the most human thing that can happen to us. But, it sucks. We don’t like it. We want to avoid the condition that leads us to the feeling. We get caught in a trap that denies neediness to avoid shameful feelings.
But wait! There’s more. We can internalize shame to the extent that it becomes an identity. As such, it becomes toxic.
“Why can’t you do it yourself?”
“Didn’t you get it the first time?”
“Do I have to do everything for you?”
These are shaming messages that are common in day to day human interactions. These questions are not ok. They are coming from a judgmental person who is most likely unable to deal with their own shame.
But these messages are out there.
Hear them enough, and you’ll internalize them:
“I can’t do anything.”
“I’m a burden.”
When you self-identify by your limitations, these messages become both internalized and toxic. This is especially true when the messages come from a trusted source (a loved one, parent, friend).
In effect, you shun yourself.
This is problematic and causes a great deal of distress. And if this is what you experience on a day to day basis, I want you to know that there is help for you. Reach out to a counselor you trust to get what you need.
For the rest of us, we are often left with no resources for what to do with shame. Let alone how to differentiate it from other feelings and states of being.
So, I hope that this website will be a resource for you. I will continue to share insights from my research on shame, emotions, and spirituality.