Today I am writing about the emotion ‘shame,’ what it means, how it shows up in grief and how to get rid of it.
Do you know that when you live a life of denial of any kind be it in grief or in personal loss or pain, it can turn in on you as a shame. Shame is a painful emotion caused by consciousness of guilt, shortcoming, or impropriety.
The painful feeling arising from the consciousness of something dishonourable, improper, ridiculous etc done by oneself or another.
Feelings of shame can happen in our lives when we face a traumatic loss e.g., losing a spouse, it is so easy to turn in on yourself. Recriminating yourself for the tragedy that has occurred.
It is a culmination of losing the most special person you vowed to share your future with, not being able to physically fulfil the mandate nor being able to realise the dreams and vision you both planned.
While shame is a negative emotion, it plays a role in our survival as a species. Without shame, we might not feel the need to adhere to cultural norms, follow laws or behave in a way that allows us to exist as social beings. Since we want to be accepted it is an evolutionary tool that keeps us all in check.
Do you know that when I lost my husband I felt ‘shame.’ This was a feeling of blaming myself for a while for not being able to keep him alive. Until I gained greater insight, I wondered why I felt this way.
Shame presents as a product of guilt resulting from grief felt from loss. It does not have to be rational; it can present in such a deep-felt emotional trauma.
Shame can be problematic when it becomes internalized and results in a harsh evaluation of oneself as a whole person. This inner critic might tell you that you are a bad person, worthless or have no value. The truth is how deeply you feel,
has little to do with your worth or what you have done wrong.
So, when you look around you and see couples still making great strides together, shame comes to your mind to convince and remind you of what was loss.
Shame also happens in our lives when we have done something wrong, consciously, or unconsciously and have not had a way to admit fault or come to repentance.
To avoid shame present itself in your thoughts you must express your fears and thoughts to someone. This is where the role of Counselling or grief coaching plays a significant role in your grief recovery.
Having an outlet to express such uncertainty, fears and shame can only shift your awareness and mindset.
Having a forum in which to express this feeling of shame makes it less impacting on your well-being.
So, pretending all is all right when it is not, smothers us with shame.
Shame tries to tell you to hide what you are really feeling. This then makes those feelings worst. Why, because you have then agreed with shame – silence is acquiescence.
So, shame never wins when you have a space to express these feelings.
‘When we find the Courage to share our experiences,
And the compassion,
to hear others, tell their stories,
we force shame out of hiding,
and end the silence.’ Brene Brown
Peter R. Breggin, Psychiatrist gives us several reasons to feel shame in his book Guilt, Shame, and Anxiety,2015.
I am highlighting just five-
- Feeling sensitive or being worried about what others think of you.
- Feeling unappreciated, used, or like others take advantage of you.
- Feeling rejected, regretful, inadequate, or like you have negligible impact.
- Feeling that you cannot be your true self, losing your identity, or not sharing your thoughts or feelings because you are afraid to be embarrassed.
- Feeling like an outsider, that you are different or left out.
FOUR CATEGORIES OF SHAME BEHAVIOUR
In the academic book Shame, published by Oxford University Press, the authors identified four categories of shame behaviours.
- The Hot Response
- Behaviours to Cope with or Conceal Shame
- Safety Behaviours to Avoid Shame or Being Discovered
- Behaviours to Repair Shame
The Hot Response
These are things you do when you feel ashamed and defensive, such as lashing out in anger or attacking the other person to deflect attention from yourself. The hot response is usually an impulsive reaction.
Behaviours to Cope with or Conceal Shame
These behaviours include doing things to make yourself feel small, trying to avoid being the centre of attention, or not sharing your thoughts or feelings. Concealing yourself is a method of self-protection.
Safety Behaviours to Avoid Shame or Being Discovered
This category of shame behaviours might be things like apologizing, crying, or avoiding conflict. People who have a tendency toward being emotional or avoiding conflict may be more likely to engage in safety behaviours.
Behaviours to Repair Shame
These might include things like doing things to soothe yourself or apologizing to others. For example, if you forgot an important anniversary, you might tell yourself that you had a lot on your mind or engage in gestures to show that you are sorry.
Causes of Shame
Are you wondering about what causes shame? There are a variety of potential causes of the several types of shame, some that are transient and others that might have originated in childhood. In addition, sometimes mental health concerns can create shame in and of themselves.
Five potential causes of shame could be:
- Any mental health disorder that involves self-criticism or judgment (e.g., social anxiety disorder)
- Not living up to overly ambitious standards that you set for yourself.
- Feeling as though your flaws or inadequacy will be revealed.
- Expectations not being met or experiencing failure.
- Rejection from others or the weakening of a relationship
COPING WITH SHAME.
Are you wondering how to feel less shame?
There are three main steps to healing your shame.
1.Exploring your shame instead of avoiding it.
2.Embracing your shame
Explore Your Shame
The first step in moving on from your shame is to understand what it is all about. This is important because it will be impossible for you to heal from your shame if you have not identified it for what it is.
Gaining perspective on your shame by understanding where it has come from and how it influences your current decisions (through emotional memories) can go a long way toward stopping shame from ruling your life.
One way to recognize your shame is to start paying attention to your emotions in different situations. When are your feelings of shame triggered? And when you feel shame, how do you react or how do you feel differently?
If you aren’t sure, try writing a journal about your feelings of shame. You could write about events from your past in which you felt shame or that influence you today in your feelings of shame. Write down any feelings or thoughts you have and how you reacted to that past situation.
Next, spend some time examining how past shame still influences you today in terms of current shame. What did past situations teach you about yourself? Bringing your shame into the light is a way to escape from having it cast a shadow on your current self.
Embrace Your Shame
Now that you have identified and acknowledged your shame, it is time to work on embracing your shame. While this might feel counterintuitive, to heal from your feelings of shame, it is necessary to bring those feelings out from your internal world and into the light of day.
It is natural to want to put up defences and barriers when doing this work. Therefore, it is important to show yourself love and acceptance and to surround yourself with people who will show you the same. You need a safe place to belong and a group that will shower you with unconditional love.
If you do not already have that in your life, seek it out from friends, family, or even a support group. When doing this:
- Remember that your love for yourself must be unconditional (without any strings) when you feel shame.
- Be honest with yourself and with other people.
- Do not avoid the shame that you are feeling. Rather, talk about your feelings and share them when in the safe space that you have created.
- Allow your suffering to be legitimized and normalized. This will help you gain some perspective on your shame.
Aim for Acceptance
As you go through this process, it is important to re-examine your beliefs and attitudes about yourself. This is the time to start rejecting the old beliefs that there is something inherently wrong with you. Instead, accept your new reality that you are acceptable and lovable just as you are.
You will also be accepting the fact that you may make mistakes and that is okay. During this time, you may want to find a mentor or accountability partner who can help you set priorities and make decisions.
Although your own healing process is highly personal, going on the journey with another person who understands could be highly beneficial.
To conclude, Shame is a universal emotion but everyone experiences it to different degrees. However, Personal Trauma like the loss of a spouse can make you feel shame. Learning how to change your thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes toward yourself, by working with a Professional to set your Recovery in motion.
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