Shame often comes alive as an unconscious response to fear (especially a fear of not being good enough). You can see shame as the shadow to fear. It causes humans to shut down, hide, and isolate. We don’t want others to see our worse fears so we cover them up in shame. We can’t connect with others when we’re feeling shame, it’s a dead end. This is what makes shame such a painful experience; access to the very thing we need (reassurance/care/love/support) is blocked. Focusing on our fear allows us to share it with a trusted other (someone who has wanted the right to hear our vulnerable parts) or process it by ourselves of no one is available. Being held in our fear not only brings us closer to those we love the most (or helps us befriend our inner world), it has the potential to revise the way we view ourselves and others!
Shame is not the same thing as guilt. Guilt is feeling as though you’ve made a mistake, shame is feeling as though you are a mistake. None of us are proud of what we do in our most distressing moments (remember that unprocessed pain tweaks behavior). We may struggle with our imperfect humanity to be sure but no human is bad at their core. We all have the capacity to miss the mark with our behavior, what matters is how we choose to act in-spite of this possibility. This is who we truly are.
Instead of thinking of shame as an emotion, it may be more helpful to understand it as an echo from another time (possibly even another generation). Somewhere along the line (family of origin, ancestral history, relational history) a wound, scar, trauma, or impact was created and somehow shame was attached. Seeing shame in this way can begin to create some space between you and the way you experience shame. Focusing on the wound highlights an experience instead of a quality about you. You are not a bad person. You’re a very good person who bad things have happened to (thank you for the quote Sirius Black). As you learn to move from a belief about yourself to the experience of fear/pain, you can begin to process this wound and shrink it’s impact.
* The information provided is for self-enrichment and not intended to replace any necessary mental health treatment.