I just took an excellent webinar from a couple in Berkeley, Bret Lyon and Sheila Rubin,on helping clients to identify and heal shame. There were a few facts that got my attention, made me think about how often shame gets in people’s way, and also what a silent but influential force it can be in our lives. Often, people who are suffering from intense shame don’t even know that shame is the issue! It can be tricky to detect, powerful but illusive. Here are some signs that what you’re struggling with is shame-related:
- You feel stupid. As Bret and Sheila shared, shame makes us stupid. (It’s a freeze response that shuts the brain down.
- You can’t identify your feelings. Shame dampens our emotions.)
- You try to problem solve, and you can’t. You end up beating yourself up, or getting distracted. Shame depletes energy and robs us of focus.
- You can’t get moving. You feel stuck. (Yup, shame works to keep us from moving too much. It’s a self-protective thing, but most often, when people feel shame, they accuse themselves of being lazy. They don’t understand that it’s shame that’s damping their energy to keep them small.)
- You experience rage that seems to come out of nowhere. (Shame often hides behind other emotions, so we can feel shame and then be diverted into a big wave of some other emotion. Shame is often afraid to be seen.)
- Instead of getting mad, you get apologetic. Ever have the experience that you have a conversation with someone, and it’s hours, or days, or weeks, later, that you suddenly feel angry? Shame made you submissive and apologetic at the time of the conversation. So you didn’t notice the anger until later.
So…..You think you might be experiencing shame. What are you to do?
- Recognize that you’re experiencing shame, and that shame makes it very hard to think clearly or to have an accurate self-perception. So whatever you’re thinking or feeling about yourself probably isn’t accurate in the moment you’re feeling shame. Being aware of this can help you to get a little bit of distance from your self-judgment.
- Find someone caring and accepting to talk with about your feelings. Preferably, someone who will share her own vulnerability with you rather than telling you what to do! For one thing, shame tends to thrive in isolation and in secrecy. And since it’s one of the most agonizing emotions in our emotional repertoire and it blinds us to certain good things about ourselves, one of my biggest suggestions is that you don’t try to struggle through it alone.
- Realize that you feel shame because you’ve been shamed at some point in your life. The legacy of that shame is somatic, emotional, and cognitive — quite a package. You feel this feeling not because you’re bad, but because, at some point, someone shamed you. This can be repaired through a relationship with someone who can counter that shame and help you feel a sense of connection in relationships again. Group work is excellent for this. So is working with a gentle, compassionate therapist who will give you reality checks about who you really are.
- Consider that the shame may be an emotional flashback, a communication from a part of you who was shamed when you were young. More about emotional flashbacks here.
Shame can be healed!
I know it can. Otherwise, why would there be a website called healing shame? 🙂
All joking aside, you can work past the effects of shame. Since shame is, at its core, a relational experience, healing needs to be relational as well. That said, shame also makes reaching out for relationships and being vulnerable difficult. So if you’re getting mired in shame, it’s time to find help.
Shame thrives in isolation. Connection heals shame. And no matter what your shame may tell you about yourself, you are worthy of deep connection.