During this week’s meeting, Chris Germer guided us through an engaging discussion about the nature of shame. Despite the fact that many of us feel that we “should” appear emotionally unaffected, or “together” at all times, shame is a universal human emotion which exists for us all in ways that impact our daily lives. No one is exempt.
And so we owe it to ourselves to enquire into our shame, perhaps one day being able to lean into it with tenderness and healing it with our gentle care and respectful sharing to others. (See Brené Brown’s video on the important skill of sharing your shame story with discernment.)
Chris talks about shame as an “innocent emotion.” Why? Because it stems from the shared human wish, from a very early age, to simply be loved. And this wish to be loved, while some of us might feel it as “namby-pamby” or weak upon initial reflection, is actually critically important in that it is tied to our very survival. Because we live in community, we are able to survive when we’re connected and cooperative with one another. We NEED each other. The truth of our emotional and physical interdependence can trigger great fear when we think that we might be rejected from our “pack.” In this sense, “survival of the kindest” supports our belonging and our very survival.
So shame keeps us connected to one another by making us panic when we feel socially isolated. The paradox is that even though we may wish to belong and do something to be brought back into the pack, we may feel that revealing our true selves will cause others to reject us further.
“Shame is one’s own vicarious experience of another’s scorn. The self in the eyes of the other is the focus of awareness in shame.”
Where does shame come from?
- Childhood sources (constant criticism, etc.)
- Culture that has marginalized our particular difference (sexuality, race, religion, etc.). We experience shame because we are told we are bad or different because of something we can’t control
- Intergenerational sources (When generations prior to ours committed unacceptable acts, the following generations can carry the shame.)
Paul Gilbert tells us that because shame can come from so many sources that we don’t choose or control (parents/gender, cultural norms), maybe we can let ourselves off the hooks a little bit. That perhaps our held shame is not our fault. At the same time, we can still take responsibility. This is what shame work helps us to do. Rather than feeling disabled by our shame year in and year out, there are several things we can do to help ourselves (video).
What’s the difference between guilt and shame?
Guilt: feeling bad about an action (I DID something bad.)
Shame: feeling bad about ourselves (I AM bad.)
Negative Core Beliefs
Often, what keeps shame going is ongoing, possibly unconscious negative core beliefs. The paradox is that shame is a universal human emotion … and yet, we still feel isolated!
Here are some common negative core beliefs:
I am not enough.
I’m not OK.
I don’t matter.
I’m a failure.
I’m not worthy, not deserving
Because we are all human, we each experience shame and hold at least some negative core beliefs. In this way, we are connected to millions of other people. The paradox is that we feel isolated, but upon reflection, we are not. 🙂
Knowing that we are alone together!
“When we remember that we wish to be loved and shame arises within us, and we can identify that ‘I just wish to be loved!’ Whatever is horrifying you becomes softer.” – Chris Germer
What keeps shame going?
- Isolation. Sharing our feelings of shame is uniquely difficult because we are scared of what will happen if people agree that our shame is valid. But according to Brené Brown, healing begins with sharing since “Shame cannot survive being spoken and being met with empathy.” Conversely, our shame secrets intensify shame.
- Our own ongoing resistance to our shame can keep the shame going.
- Our inability to clearly see our own shame and negative core beliefs keeps our shame alive. Sometimes, we’re not even aware of our shame, and so we’re unable to question it or give it the care it needs. (See “Learn Your Shame Blueprint,” below)
- Chris has described how during moments of shame, we may lose our sense of ourselves—the sense of “I.” We often wish to disappear, Chris said. “Shame eviscerates the observer.”
It’s very difficult being mindful if the observer (the “I”) has entirely disappeared. This is why it is particularly helpful to bring self-compassion, kindly awareness, to the experiencER having the shaming experience. So it is helpful to reconnect with the “I” when we have shame through self-compassion. When we offer ourselves kindness while in shame, we can begin to return to ourselves. Compassion also widens our perspective, whereas shame narrows our perspective. And so while in compassion, we are better able to see the many parts, such that shame isn’t the whole of us. We hold all of it with compassion.
So self-compassion is slowly, gently, and at our own pace embracing all of our parts (even the shame-filled-ones) in a warm-hearted way. Remembering that just like everyone else, we wish to be loved.
This is a long list of home practice offerings! Look over it. What calls for your attention? Try only that. The rest … let it go. This is a expansive topic and should be handled with care, tenderness, and a great deal of patience.
- Formal practice: Any meditation of your choice. Which practice would meet your needs this week? If you wish, continue to work with Soften Soothe Allow as both a formal and an informal practice (Audio by Chris Germer)
- Creative Invitation: Kindly journaling for shame.
- Notice Your Shame Blueprint: With the objectivity of a scientist, can you take some time this week to notice the following and note them in your journal?
- What are the signs and symptoms that you’re in shame? (Physical, emotional, behavioral. Don’t forget checking out/numbing, which can be sneaky.)
- What are your personal triggers for shame?
- What are a couple ways can you support yourself when in shame?
- Contemplating sharing our shame stories: One way we can relate with long-held shame is to (gently, and when we are ready) share our shame story with a person who is trustworthy and able to hear our story with support, encouragement, and non-judgement. This discernment is critical. If you’d like to explore this idea, please have a look at Brené Brown’s video on her B.R.A.V.I.N.G. construct and visit the discussion board if you wish to discuss how this idea lands with you.
- If you find that speaking about your shame is very difficult, just for fun, try typing a shame of yours into the “what’s bothering you?” box and seeing what happens. 🙂 I offer this with a spirit of fun and curiosity.
Kristy Arbon will join us September 25 to offer teaching on Somatic Self-Compassion. Please acquaint yourself with SSC by reading this summary on Kristy’s website. SSC will be new for many of you, as it is not a part of the foundational MSC course; it offers new ways of relating with ourselves through the wisdom of the body.
- Video is here. The password is: H3al1ngShame
- Six Types of People Who Do Not Deserve to Hear Our Shame Story (Brené Brown)
- Kristy Arbon’s Somatic Self-Compassion
- “How to Hold Space for Shame” a gorgeous article by Heather Plett. In this article, Plett expertly examines shame from the perspective of mistakes and how we can relate with them in a way that mitigates shame and encourages learning, healing, and restoration of damaged relationships.
- Rick Hanson’s take on shame and self-worth, including the evolutionary neurobiology of shame
- Video: The Lesson Brené Brown’s Daughter Learned About Trust (a B.R.A.V.I.N.G. primer)
- “How to Cultivate Self-Trust: Advice from Rising Strong by Brené Brown.” This is a natural extension of the BRAVING model, in which we can learn to cultivate self-trust.
- Rick Hanson shame series: From Shame to Self-Worth
May your practice and commitment serve to enliven, strengthen, and deepen your experience of this one precious life.