First, let me say shame is not a natural emotion. We are not born with shame. Shame is a social emotion that is learned from our parents, our society, our culture, our religious leaders, our teachers, our bosses, or any significant other. In other words, the emotion of shame is taught and imposed on us.
HOW DOES SHAME FEEL?
Shame feels dark, heavy, lonely, unlovable, humiliated, undeserving, inadequate, self-flawed, self-loathing, unworthy. Shame carries feelings of rejection, “dirty little secrets,” and leaves us feeling like an outcast.
Our inner dialogue goes something like this: “I am not good enough. I don’t like who I am. I feel empty, separate and alone.”
Externally, reactions may include porous boundaries. In other words, we can’t say no to ourself or others. We don’t take proper care of ourself. Shame is the basis of all addictions.
HOW CAN WE ELIMINATE SHAME?
In order to shed shame from our emotional body, we have to delve deep, do some serious inner work and answer some hard questions—honestly.
What are you shameful about? Many of us may carry many long-forgotten shameful memories, which are lodged deep in our physical body tissue and muscle. Eventually that causes physical pain for which we cannot account.
For instance, I experience pain in my lower back and hip. This is ultimately caused from carrying emotions for so long that they have lodged into the muscles and bones of my body. According to Heal Your Body by Louise Hay, lower back problems relate to a fear of money and lack of financial support whereas hip problems relate to the fear of going forward with major decisions or having nothing to move forward to. While I can certainly identify with both fears, these relate to fear, not shame.
So where is shame being held in my body? Do I even have shame lodged somewhere in my body? Of course, I do! We all do at some point in our lives. And while it may never completely go away, if we are willing to do the hard work within, the shame will lessen so we can move forward with our lives. Yes, it may be triggered from time to time when situations arise, but if we embrace it and welcome shame to the table to participate in the conversations we have with ourselves, we can make friends with it and be able to identify and observe when it’s been triggered without any fear or judgment on our part. We can eventually be neutral about any shame we may feel and recognize it for what it is, without labelling it as good or bad. It’s just an old buried emotion that has momentarily been triggered by something or someone. It is something we learned.
As I mentioned, we have to do the inner work and answer the tough questions—honestly.
First, we find a quiet spot where we can spend some time alone, in meditation. Think of the word shame. What words from the aforementioned list come up? Certainly, rejection and “dirty little secrets” come up for me, which, in turn, make me feel lonely, unlovable and unworthy. What comes up for you? As you scan your body, where do you harbour the shame?
In my case, I feel the shame in my heart centre, which represents love, self-love and governs my relations. I also feel it in my lower torso around the sacral chakra, which represents creative and sexual energies. These energies appear to be in conflict with each other. In one, I feel the compassion for the Wounded Person who had to make difficult decisions or who made silly choices long ago, while in the other, I still carry the shame of those decisions and choices. As a result, when shame is triggered in a judgmental way, the lower shame physically manifests in my lower back and hips and the old inner dialogues of “not being good enough” come up. That is where the heart centre needs to step in with compassion and allow me to cry, if need be, or just relax into the shame and not judge it.
So what are the tough questions?
- Where did you learn that acting or being (name the action you’re ashamed of) is unacceptable?
- When do you first remember behaving this way and feeling ashamed?
- What was happening at that time in your life?
- How did it make you feel to be called _______________?
- Would you now do almost anything not to be called ________?
- How did you over-compensate for that?
- How has over-compensating hurt you?
- How has it helped you?
Not easy questions to answer honestly, I know. Keep asking each question until you feel you’ve exhausted all the possible answers. Begin as far back as memory will take you and work through your life to the present day so you clearly understand how this has impacted your life, your relationship with yourself and others, your choices and decisions.
Once you feel you’ve exhausted all the possible answers, applaud your courage for going through the exercise. That took courage and you should be proud of yourself.
Create a safe place for yourself to go through all the questions and answers. Read them out loud and know it’s okay to feel this way.
If more answers arise as you go through them, write in your journal and share parts of your secret you feel like sharing. What happened that made you feel so worthless and ashamed?
Identify the origin of the shame triggers to find answers to: Who and what do they lead to? What is the source? Just remember to always have compassion for that wounded part of yourself. As Maya Angelou always said:” We did what we did until we knew better. Once we know better, we do better.”
What if that “shameful” action you identified earlier on was simply a message you could share with others? What would that message be? What if Shame’s message was: “Whether or not you like me (shame) is of no consequence to me. My role is to pass on knowledge to you, so let’s begin!” What knowledge have you gained about feeling shame that you can share with others?
HEALING YOUR WOUNDED SELF
It’s so important to remember our Wounded Self is not our Real Self. It is a piece or memory of the past we carry with us until it no longer serves us. And it takes courage to release something we’ve carried for so long, especially if it’s become a crutch that inhibits us from facing our fears and moving forward.
Think of a happy memory from the past that speaks to your Real Self. How would you describe yourself in that memory?
The Real YOU was never lost. She was just forgotten and buried when she didn’t feel safe, so this part, this Wounded Self, took over to take care of you. But it’s no longer working. Write about the wounded aspect of you. Give her a name. What is she like? Get to know her intimately.
What would your Wounded Self say to your Real Self? What would your Real Self say to your Wounded Self? What has your Wounded Self been trying to do for you?
It’s no longer working for you, so ask your Wounded Self to take a well-deserved vacation so your Real Self can take over. It’s time to let your Wounded Self—and Shame—go, with your blessings and without judgement. Your Real Self has got this!
Donna S. Vieira is a published freelance travel and lifestyle writer, blogger and editor who has been travelling the globe since she was 10. You can read about her travels at FromMyTravelBag.com. She is also an Astrologer and a certified Empowerment Coach. In partnership with her chef husband, Fernando, she has owned and managed Globetrotters Bed & Breakfast/Gallery in Niagara-on-the-Lake since 2002 and welcomes guests from all over the world.