We appear to be in an ever-increasing movement of ‘shaming’ other people and finding this acceptable or normal whether this is presented in gossiping amongst friends, social media trolling or bullying. While you may engage knowingly or unknowingly, this action can only bring temporary relief.
Consider this, every time you attempt to shame or embarrass others what happens is that you project your issues out to the world. This a bright bat signal in the night time sky.
There is ‘good’ and ‘bad’ in all of us. Still, in an increasingly difficult time where society appears to be striving for perfection, in how we look, behave and lifestyle, this is an increasingly debilitating message suggesting we are ‘wrong’ or ‘bad’….not at all…we are human. There is no perfection.
Shame, humiliation, as well as guilt, are used interchangeably. However, there are differences within them so let’s take a closer look at shame.
Shaming is a ‘useful’ (to the ‘shamer’) but highly dangerous way of keeping people under control. What you may be more aware of is the reactions to shame, these reactions surround us, and we will all know people struggling with shame as it is correlated with addictions, violence, aggression, depression, eating disorders, bullying and suicide.
Interestingly, no one needs to ‘shame’ us from an external source. It is rather a fundamental ability we have as a human being with flaws to feel shame.
I feel quite confident in my statement when I say we all have experienced shame at some point in our lives, and some will be living with it right now.
To give you an example, the latest buzz word around mental health is ‘narcissism’, which is a term used for a particular disorder, however, people are being labelled a narcissist when there may be other issues going on.
A true narcissist feels overwhelming levels of shame, I bet that will come as a surprise to many. What they don’t feel though is guilt because guilt requires empathy to be present about their behaviours to others. Narcissists do not have one jot of empathy; however, they can mimic empathic responses, so ‘pretend’ they are empathic to gain what they want or need.
Guilt and shame frequently walk side by side but are not the same thing. While guilt in simplistic terms involves how we feel we have impacted others or a situation. Shame is a strong emotion that is entwined with fear. This fear is due to the possibility of disconnection from our ‘tribe’. That can be family, friendship group or community.
Guilt = I did something bad Shame = I am bad
We are hard-wired for connection, love and belonging and shame holds the fear of disconnection. Shame is a fear that we have done or failed to do an ideal. That we have not lived up to or a goal we have not achieved, this can, in turn, make us feel unworthy of connection. It’s a profoundly intense emotion, so painful with an intrinsic belief that we are so damaged, that we are unworthy of love or belonging. There is research that confirms that physical pain and social rejection pain hurt in the same way.
Shame thrives at its best when we fear vulnerability; it interestingly dies when we are vulnerable and accepted. The people I admire the most, are the people who can ‘go there’, own their stuff, admit their flaws and the impact they might have had on a given situation while holding the fear that they may be rejected.
To experience this process in another human being is a beautiful thing to watch unfold, its releasing for the person going through the process to release their external misconceived ideas that they will lose their power through shame and vulnerability.
Shame dies when words are wrapped around it. Imagine the witch in the Wizard of Oz when she had water thrown over her. Can you imagine that character of the witch as shame and the water are your words? Shame holds great power in silence. If we believe an experience is so shameful that we couldn’t possibly discuss it, then how will it ever die?
This is where therapy can help by providing a safe place to let your words shrivel your shame. A place where what is discussed can never be repeated and no one but your therapist will ever know. Confidential and non-judgemental because we understand human nature, human errors and see the bigger picture.
To quote someone, I have a lot of respect for who has spent years researching shame as well as vulnerability:
‘If we share our story with someone who in turn responds with empathy and understanding, shame can’t survive’ – Brene Brown
Consider how in everyday life, how can you work on not fuelling shame, either within yourself or in others.
Be a person where shame comes to die.
We then can collectively make the world a better place.