Shame is a topic that most people ignore their whole lives. Despite some well-known authors on the topic in recent years, such as Brene Brown, it’s still a topic that’s not talked about that often in our society.
But here’s the thing.
Feeling shame is very common for most people, at least to some degree. And, shame can be very painful and debilitating for many people.
Feeling some shame is natural, as in when you do something silly or embarrassing. You feel humiliated and may express it by blushing, sweating, or a rapid heartbeat. However, these feelings are typically overcome easily in a short time frame.
Chronic shame, on the other hand, is very different and for millions of people around the world, it is debilitating.
Shame is different from guilt. When you are feeling guilty it is because you did something you consider negative or bad. Shame is when you get the feeling that YOU are bad. In essence:
Guilt = I did something bad.
Shame = I am bad.
Feeling guilty helps you to not want to do the bad behavior again, whereas shame leaves you feeling inadequate and humiliated. With shame comes great pain and causes people to feel separated from themselves and others.
Chronic shame is feeling shame over a long period of time. It could be a little bit of shame or a lot.
Here are some common beliefs from those who suffer from chronic shame:
For those struggling with codependency, shame is typically present continually and often leads to plenty of relationship problems with self and others. Someone struggling with codependency will often feel unworthy of love and unloved (no matter how much love someone lavishes on them). They may also feel like a failure, depressed, numb, inferior, guilty, and operate from a victim mentality.
These negative feelings may be tolerated for a while, but they will progressively get worse and begin to interfere with relationships. They may also lead to addictions, as the codependent person tries desperately to fill the aching void.
Someone who feels a lot of shame may also try to control and “caretake” others, to try to fulfill their needs and dull the pain associated with shame. This behavior oftentimes sabotages intimate relationships. The controlling behaviors tend to have the opposite of the desired effect, pushing the partner away instead of inviting love and approval.
Shame also causes a victim mentality and may cause a person to continually blame others for their problems. Though some issues may arise because of the person’s inability to be assertive and stand up for themself, plenty of issues arise out of the fear of success or the fear of failure.
For example, if a person riddled with shame has a fear of failure when it comes to a career, they may just not even try to pursue a career. Or, someone who feels like they are broken, and feel ashamed about it, may never ask anyone out on a date. They just don’t think anyone would ever want to date them.
Theories about where shame comes from vary, but a prevalent theory believes that shame originates somewhere in childhood in a dysfunctional family atmosphere. It could arise from a failed attachment to a parent, verbal or sexual abuse, neglect, and so on. Theorists that propose this believe that professional help may be needed to get to the root of the shame and begin a healing process through therapy.
It is possible to heal feelings of shame. The first step is to realize that you carry chronic shame. You may not be able to pinpoint the root of that shame, and that’s alright. Or, you may know exactly why you’re feeling shame.
Either way, just identifying that you feel shame is a good step toward dealing and healing it. You can then feel freer to share your story with someone you trust, as sharing this helps the shame lose its power. Find an empathetic counselor or support group to share your story and begin your pathway to healing. You will begin to see yourself in a new light – a positive one. You will begin to see yourself portrayed like this:
Are you dealing with shame under the surface? Do you feel bad? Broken?
You can heal from chronic shame by doing your inner healing work. It takes time and effort, and sometimes it takes seeing a qualified therapist. However, there are many good books and resources available to help you out. A good first step would be to check out Brene Brown’s books on the topic.
Begin your pathway to healing from chronic shame. You’ll feel lighter, and certainly more peaceful and happier.