The feeling of shame, like most people, is one I’ve carried for an age, yet have only recently recognised it and named it as shame.
What is shame?
Shame is defined as “the painful feeling arising from the consciousness of something dishonorable, improper, ridiculous, etc., done by oneself or another.”
Painful it is indeed.
Who decided you were wrong?
What is less clear is, who or what decided that what you’ve done or been is “dishonorable, improper, ridiculous etc.”?
This is the tricky bit. Sometimes that outside influence is explicit – for instance, a family in India shaming their daughter for eloping with her love when they’d planned an arranged marriage.
But a lot of the time the mechanisms of shame are more subtle than this. Sometimes it is not an external influence telling you directly that you are, for instance, “dishonorable”. Instead, it is your (often unconscious) perception and conviction that the people around you, or even God has decided this.
Shame’s hidden nature
Shame is so elusive. It is hidden by nature, not wanting to be exposed nor seen. Often my clients experience shame like this – wanting to cover their face and hide, or a sense of being tarnished or marked.
This can feel incredibly vulnerable as shame often dwells in the deepest recesses of your heart and the most private levels of your sexuality.
In my experience, it can take a while to get to feel shame directly. So often it masquerades as something else – pride, toughness, being aloof, control, drama – really anything to move away from something which can seem unbearably painful.
For me, it’s taken years of deconstructing a facade of pride or trying to fight this sense that I’d done something to wrong. Only now can I start facing the shame or unworthiness underneath, and see how it’s been blocking me from receiving the riches and love on offer.
As Pema Chodron so beautifully says:
“The elemental struggle is with our feeling of being wrong, with our guilt and shame at what we are. That’s what we have to befriend. The point is that we can dissolve the sense of dualism between us and them, between this and that, between here and there, by moving toward what we find difficult and wish to push away.”
In other words, the healing occurs by embracing the shame. Allowing the shame to be seen, turns it inside out to reveal something very pure, vulnerable and true. This can feel like a big risk and step, and requires a safe and held space, as is offered in IST sessions.
A private experience
Shame, to me at least, feels different from other emotions like grief which can be shared or felt by another. The movement of shame seems to be inwards, like a closing in, a turning away.
In this way, it can be a very private, even isolating experience, despite it being universal. Again, the way to heal it is to face this feeling, move into it and let it be seen. It can feel like a solo journey and somehow an essential one at the heart of the human experience, but it is also something others can hold you in, and can gently remind you to let love in here.
As Brene Brown says:
“Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change” and can “damage the roots from which love grows. Love can only survive these injuries if they are acknowledged, healed and rare.”
Shame is an invaluable key
In this way, shame is such an invaluable key to open beyond the limits you’ve set for yourself, to accept who you are, to embrace your destiny. Not facing your shame can keep you devastatingly small, blocking you from the magnificence that you are and the abundance you could receive.
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