“Who do you think you are?”
We’ve all heard these critical voices one time or another. The most frequent and insistent source is often – you guessed it – ourselves. Such thoughts can be extremely damaging in terms of destroying our self-esteem, preventing us from letting go of traumatic past experiences, and going on to lead healthy, positive lives.
A recent workshop facilitated by New Life transpersonal counselor Samina Khan addressed the very emotion that fuels these self-destructive patterns: shame.
Shame can take many forms and is attached to as diverse spheres of our lives as our family of origin, sexuality, physical appearance, status or possessions, education and career, relationships, and past actions (including both things we have done, and things that have been done to us).
Essentially, however, it is based on all the ways that we judge. All the ways that we prove that we’re “good enough” to ourselves, friends, family, acquaintances, colleagues, and even perfect strangers. In addition to judgment, shame is based on secrecy, or hiding that which we are ashamed of, as well as silence, which is one of the greatest obstacles to healing.
Influential vulnerability researcher Brené Brown suggests that shame, which we can often carry with us from a young age, is very different from guilt. When we’re ashamed, we have internalised the feeling that, “I am bad”. In contrast, feeling guilty is related more to the sense that, “I did something bad”, or “I did something I’m not proud of”.
Research has shown that the greater amount of shame a person has, the higher the incidences of addiction, depression, stress, and trauma in their lives. Those who are more prone to feeling guilty are more likely to experience less of these harmful and negative life situations.
One of the most valuable things about being part of the New Life community is having the space and support to talk about the things we are ashamed about. For example, we can open up during life coaching sessions, during intimate conversations with one another, or even during the weekly speaker’s meetings, in which a person tells his or her life story in front of the entire community.
Being able to talk about shame takes away some of its power and gives us the opportunity to demonstrate courage through vulnerability. It offers the chance for others to give, and for us to experience, empathy and compassion, which are the very antidotes to shame. So next time we start asking internally judgmental questions, let’s pose a kinder inquiry. Let’s explore how the things we find shameful actually hold gifts for us to grow.
For more on shame, check out Bréne Brown’s excellent TEDTalk, “Listening To Shame”.