Shame is a concept ignored in many of the dating and relationship advice and self-help community. I mean, after all, it isn’t exactly sexy or the new trend to be talking about your childhood issues. However, my personal belief is that people struggling with issues in their personal life and relationships may be struggling with shame.
How Does This Toxic Shame Occur
Shame is the belief that you're fundamentally flawed as a human being. Shame often leads to emotional discomfort and the gnawing belief that one is inherently flawed, defective, and unworthy of love. Shame is different from guilt. If you feel guilty, there’s no judgment on yourself, on the other hand, shame places a judgment on yourself.
Shame may be formed in childhood and is the result of early trauma, emotional abuse, and negative experiences.
- Sexual abuse
- Emotional abuse
- Strict/ Religious Upbringing
- Neglected family background
- Growing up in dire economic conditions
These events may lead the child to internalize that he or she fundamentally isn't worthy of love as an individual. That he or she is only worthy of love from his actions or achievements and not as a human being. The child has to learn that he doesn't need to be perfect or even good at something and still be worthy of love and still not be defective. These are the repercussions of trauma.
Shame causes us to disconnect from pleasure or comfort. Suppressing one's core feelings take a huge amount of energy. It saps motivation and willpower to pursue worthwhile goals. Meanwhile, you are accumulating stress hormones, leaving you emptied out, with headaches, migraines, problems with bowels, and sexual dysfunction.
Trauma triggers a fight or flight response. This causes anxiety or avoidance. You either react by being hyper-aroused (anxiety) or you shut down from the stimuli (avoidance). It's also an issue of being stuck in the past and as much a problem of not being fully alive in the present. The apprehension about being hijacked by uncomfortable sensations keeps the body frozen and the mind-numbed.
In order the avoid these negative feelings, some of the common coping measures of people inflicted with shame are:
- Sexual fantasy unhealthy actions
These actions not only aren’t helpful, but they also exacerbate pre-existing shame. They create a deeper sense of emotional discomfort and a more powerful need, desire to escape, and dissociate.
It's suggested that shame-based individuals didn't receive the nurturing, unconditional love, and their needs fulfilled when they were just a child.
Someone that is shamed may seek to fulfill these unmet needs in adult pursuits through accomplishments, sexual explorations, financial goals, or any other means. This leads to a fluctuation of self-esteem and mood because the external world isn't static and one’s self-esteem cannot completely depend on the external world.
Ultimately, if you go on to attempt to meet these unmet childhood needs solely through external pursuits. They are band-aid solutions.
In such cases, one may react to insecurity by either avoiding, surrendering, or overcompensating around that insecurity. If one is overcompensating in that certain aspect, it can feed further into that insecurity. For example, if an individual is insecure about his sexuality around women, attempting to overcompensate and sleeping with a hundred girls can still feed that insecurity. The long-term goal to get comfortable with his sexuality isn’t trying to have sex with the entire planet but to find that middle ground of not overcompensating or avoiding that insecurity.
The Problems That Come along with Shame
- Self Criticism
One of the effects of shame is self-criticism. The amygdala is designed to detect threats in the environment, when we experience a threatening situation, the fight or flight response is triggered and the amygdala sends signals that increase blood pressure, adrenaline, and cortisol.
This system was designed to deal with physical attacks and is activated just as readily by emotional attacks. From ourselves and others. Over time, increased cortisol levels lead to depression by depleting various neurotransmitters involved in the ability to experience pleasure. It leads to a lot of unnecessary daily mental stress as if you're constantly in fight or flight mode.
Shame-based individuals handicap themselves a lot. This can play out not only in your relationships but in all other areas of life.
This is because they perceive every rejection or failure as a judgment about their identity. It's the guy who doesn't study and goes into the examinations. If he failed, it would be an easy excuse to say: well, I didn't study after all. If he did alright: he'll be able to say that he could have done better if he had studied. It's much easier to go in half-assed, and not put his identity on the line, rather than give it his best, and put himself up for failure or rejection.
- The Subhuman/ Superhuman Dichotomy
Shame-based individuals may also have trouble integrating worldviews. This is also known as the subhuman and superhuman dichotomy. Everything is all or nothing, black or white, one extreme or another. Everyone's your best friend or your enemy, every pursuit is your life purpose or a waste of time, every girl you date is either your soul mate or a waste of time. They cannot see a situation or a person for it is good and bad, and understand that it can both occur at the same time.
How to Heal Your Shame
In my own experience, it's difficult to heal shame through willpower or pure discipline.
Human beings are driven by unconscious and subconscious drives and sometimes, circumstances that are out of our control. Our minds are really good at building up defense mechanisms.
You may find yourself in temporary frustration of the surroundings around you, upset at how little you expected out of yourself in the past, upset at all the decisions made out of shame.
Nonetheless, the only way is through and the self-responsibility of healing growth and change.
So far, I’ve discussed methods that are self-generated. However, as with everything done on your own, it has limitations.
One of the most helpful ways is to get a third person’s perspective and hire a professional psychologist. You’re dealing with someone who you can openly talk about your shame, who is capable of not only listening to but helping you with it.
There are many forms of therapy that can help with resolving trauma and shame ranging from cognitive behavioral therapy to EMDR therapy.
In psychotherapy, the aim of it is to make unconscious emotions conscious and to grief through them. You may find yourself being angry at certain people in your life for no reason. More often than not, behind anger is almost always hurt and sadness. Instead of feeling hurt, you covered it up with anger.
It’s only after you identified the root of these responses that you can start identifying your behaviors.
One cannot put traumatic events behind until they are able to acknowledge what has happened and recognize the invisible narratives that are running their behavior.
- Cultivating Mindfulness
Shame often leads us to be disembodied, removed from our physical experiences, and often unable to experience the pleasure that we would normally experience if not for all the layers of shame.
Learning to locate tense body parts and progressively relax them in anxiety-provoking scenarios (real or imagined) allows us to re-experience our bodies in non-shaming ways. This way, you nudge yourself to explore your sexualities in new, safe, and pleasurable manners, you can chip at your emotional habits.
One of the techniques I found helpful over the years was to be aware of how I was feeling about my body. This is to simply focus on the sensations in your body when you’re in different situations.
You can ask yourself questions like: why does that part of your body feel stuck when I’m talking to this person. Was I repressing a certain emotion?
Mindfulness puts us in touch with the transitory nature of our feelings, beliefs, and perceptions. Simply noticing our annoyance, nervousness, anxiety, helps shift our perspective and opens up new options other than automatic, habitual reactions. You can recognize the ebb and flow in your emotions, and ultimately have more control over them.
Expressing yourself mindfully by being more forthright about your thoughts, feelings and desires to yourself can help. That's because by expressing your shame, expressing parts of yourself to the right people... you can start to heal and gain acceptance.
Meditation can also help by observing our thoughts, emotions throughout our day. By being aware of our beliefs, you can test out new beliefs and find new evidence to support new beliefs.
- Challenging Your Core Beliefs
You can also attempt to figure out where did these negative beliefs came from. These beliefs probably came from past experiences in your life. This may come in the form of overbearing, critical parents, trauma from past experiences. eg. If you had been constantly turned down by your parents when you were seeking affection as a child. You’ll constantly feel unworthy of love or attention as an adult.
In my case, my core belief is that I’m not ‘useful’, ‘smart’ or ‘hardworking’ if I don’t have a ‘practical’ degree. The counterargument for that would be: I’ve consulted two businesses in their digital marketing campaigns and achieved results for them, there’s no reason why I’m not ‘useful’, ‘smart’ or ‘hardworking’.
- Self Compassion
Through the last few years, researchers have taken an increased interest in the subject of compassion. There's been research done between shame and self-compassion.
Research also suggests that self-compassion is significantly associated with positive mental health benefits and adaptive function.
When I first started bettering my social skills, the primary motivation was to get better with women and influence others. There were many instances where I ended up feeling empty inside at times. It's almost as if I was trying to please others, or become someone else in order to win their approval. I felt like I could understand them, but they couldn’t understand me. It’s not enough to be understanding or empathetic to the world around you. You got to extend it to yourself.
- Social Support, Safe Relationships, and Communal Rhythms
Safe relationships are important for the healing process. You need to find someone who is emotionally mature to talk to and express your hurt and anger without giving you biased advice or judgment. Social support and safe relationships are some of the key factors when getting better with trauma.
In my opinion, it is difficult to express grief in modern society. You need to find yourself someone that can REALLY listen. Family members or friends around you might feel impatient if you’re in the grieving process. This is why I highly recommend hiring a therapist and letting them help you through this process.
I also recommend keeping a community of friends around you and taking part in social activities. Socializing is a helpful activity to find a sense of connection.
There’s research that suggests taking part in activities involving music and communal rhythms can help with trauma. This can come in the form of aikido, kickboxing classes, tango dancing, and other forms of communal rhythms. Some of these activities help you reconnect with your bodies. Traumatized people are afraid to feel, remember? Through playing and exercising together, you feel physically attuned and experience a sense of connection.