Jane had been dating Brad for months. She’d been to his apartment, had met most of his friends, and even went to brunch with his parents. She loved how open Brad was and how he willingly shared his life with her.
But as time went on, Brad found it odd that Jane never asked him into her apartment. She didn’t invite him to meet her family or ask him to attend work events with her. Brad was serious about Jane and he was ready to take the next step. But whenever he tried to peer into his girlfriend’s life, she shut him out.
Finally, Brad gave Jane an ultimatum. He wanted in her life or he was ready to walk away. To his surprise, his girlfriend started seeing a therapist to work through her issues and eventually, she invited him to one of the sessions.
While he was with her, Jane tearfully shared that her father was a hoarder with a serious shopping addiction. She didn’t realize that other kids didn’t live surrounded by garbage until she visited a friend’s home in the second grade. That was the day shame became her constant companion.
What Is Shame?
Understanding shame can be a challenge since it is so pervasive in our society. Shame is a difficult emotion to express. You may experience it as a feeling of not being good enough, a worry that there’s something wrong with you, or an overwhelming feeling that you’re bad, dirty, or inferior.
In my coaching business this is the least understood emotion. I myself spent years in talk therapy when I was younger and this word never once came up.
Shame is not like guilt but often shame and guilt wind up intertwined. Guilt is an emotion you experience when you do or say something that fails to live up to your moral code or when you don’t meet society’s expectations. For example, if you sped to work today, you may feel guilt.
What Causes Shame?
Shame is the result of a flawed self-perception. Because of her childhood, Jane saw herself as worthless. She believed that since her father didn’t care enough to provide a clean, comfortable home, then it must be because Jane wasn’t worth the effort.
Like Jane, some people experience shame because of a difficult childhood filled with abuse or neglect. Others feel shame because an abusive partner blames them when things go wrong. Still, others encounter shame as a result of alcoholism or drug use. There are many ways that shame comes into our life.
As women we have a whole culture around menstruation that is built on shame.
When we experience trauma as children this often triggers shame. If the adults around us don’t or can’t fix the situation we internalize that feeling of being worthless. Just like Jane that feeling of being not worth the effort, not worth being loved and protected, not enough can haunt us well into adulthood.
What Can You Do about Shame?
If you feel shame, it may be tempting to numb those feelings. There are all sorts of things that can be used to try and numb ourselves out. Such things as drug and alcohol abuse, emotional eating, excessive shopping, the television, and the internet. Constantly searching for distractions won’t stop these feelings. In fact, it most likely will make it worse.
For some people, shame tempts them to humiliate others as a form of revenge. For example, returning home to yell at your now elderly father for his abuse or taking out your rage on your boyfriend. It can cause us to respond to current situations from a basis of that original shame which can be confusing and scary to those loved ones we have chosen now. These behaviors don’t stop your shame, and actually increase it because you are layering shameful thoughts upon shameful thoughts.
If you want to live free, you’ll need to unpack your shame, to examine it and discover its source. Understanding shame is the first step. Once you understand it, you can begin to release shame and other negative emotions so you can experience healing and peace. This is best done in a supportive environment with a coach or counselor who has experience with this type of work.
Curious about working with me? You can find out all about the packages I offer here.
Want to tap some shame right out of your system?
I created this audio to help release shame from your DNA. Try it out and let me know what you think.