Shame: How to Deal With It

Has it ever happened to you that you saw a friend on the street, waved at them joyfully, but it appeared to be another person? Or you heard a new difficult word for the first time in a conversation and were frightened that someone will notice that you did not understand what it was about. Awkwardness and constraint, anxiety and desire to hide, race for success and a permanent feeling of dissatisfaction and a lot of other different things can be manifestations of shame. We meet them every day, however, we may not take them into consideration.

Meeting Friends

Shame is a negative reaction to yourself, to that who you are. When we are ashamed, we feel that we are not what we should be, that we do not deserve the love and respect from people who are important for us. It is one of the hardest experiences one can happen to have in life. Shame is everywhere. Why do we notice it so rarely?

When thinking about shame, many people start to remember specific events when they noticed their shame. They can even name the moment when it appeared and its reason. This is a so-called situational shame. It is attached to certain case. It may seem that shame starts and ends together with the event that is related to it. However, it is not the case. Shame is not discrete. You cannot feel it for one moment and then forget. The shame that appeared in a specific situation relies on our common self-image, on our feeling that something is wrong with us. It is like a top of an iceberg. It is the symptom of deeper processes that can harm the heart of our "I". "I cannot sing or paint", "If I do not think much, I will definitely say something stupid" and so on: we think that we just know it about ourselves, that it is an evident fact. However, it is not the case. One day in childhood or adulthood we believed someone who said something similar about us, although the situation when we received such ”knowledge" about ourselves was left in the past and forgotten.

Children on Yard

We experience shame for the first time in childhood. The feeling that we are not like we need to be comes to us with other people's words. However, shame may appear in our life before any phrase like: "What a shame!" or "Shame on you" was addressed to us. The facial expressions of our parents, the tone of their voice when they are talking to us, the way they carry us in their hands; all of that helps us to form knowledge about ourselves. It becomes the fundament of our self-estimation. A child gets the feeling of its value through the attitude of adults towards them. A kid may also get a feeling of its uselessness and abandonment. This is the source of a deep shame.

Shame can be experienced in a situation when except "it is forbidden" a child hears "you are bad" or "I reject you". In case a child hears the words of love and care in phrases of prohibition that come from the parents, it becomes the most valuable lesson. A child learns that it is possible to simultaneously feel closeness with somebody and disappointment from the impossibility to get something.

Shame is not only a childish experience. It concerns also actual relationships. If a person starts to feel ashamed, it means that something has provoked it. On the contrary, in case the other person feels shame right now, during the conversation with you, then you are involved in it. You do something that launches this feeling in them. It is paradoxical, but despite the fact that we experience shame as loneliness or our flaw that is the reason of our loneliness, we never experience shame on our own. Even when there is no one near us, we still remember a certain person who behaved depreciatingly with us. There is always someone who shares the responsibility for our shame.

The first step is to free us from shame is to notice and admit it. It is rather difficult to become aware of its existence and to see it as if from outside during the moment you feel it. As a rule, the main barrier for such an approach is the shame itself. When we are facing any awkward situation, we are trying to hide our confusion. It is because to be ashamed is also shameful. When we are ashamed, we feel vulnerable. Our fragility becomes noticeable. Moreover, people may see how we depended on what they are thinking about us. We even do not have any "dictionary" of shame. We do not have words to describe what we feel. Our experiences become vague and incomprehensible. The reason for it is that we are not used to look for such words. Moreover, shame initially appears when we are kids at the preverbal period. It is the time when no words exist for us.

Hugging Someone

How does one notice shame? The best is to ask yourself directly whether you feel it right now or not. Try to take a break, to breathe and to listen to your body sensations. Sometimes we may notice how we round of our back and shoulders, retract the head or stiff as if we are trying to get smaller, to gather up and shrink. The most noticeable thing is our sight. When we are ashamed, it is too hard to raise our eyes and look at people surrounding us. Especially to look at those who are trying to arise the feeling of shame in us by their presence. Moreover, we breathe intermittently and superficially, inhale and exhale for a long time or even hold our breath.

If we train our attention and sensibility to notice shame, it will change a lot. The next step is to speak about it. We should share our feelings of shame, especially with those people we care about. In conversations we may start to feel our value for other people that will mean the disposal from shame.

Overall, a feeling of shame is one of the least productive ones, so it has to be torn away and thrown as far as possible to let the roses in our heart bloom.

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