In my 35+ years of counseling, I’ve found that shame is virtually the most stubborn cage of psychic hell. A serious soul-sickness. The quintessential belief that one is intrinsically unlovable.
This is how adults often present shame:
- Afraid to share their true thoughts and feelings with others.
- Commonly block “negative” feelings through secret compulsive behaviors: sex addiction, eating disorders, retail therapy or substance-abuse. I call these “secret addictions” because the secret is as important (or more) than the illicit relations, the new shoes, the gallon of ice cream…
- Intimacy adverse, terrified of commitment and build hidden walls in their relationships.
- Convinced of their inferiority and compare themselves negatively to others finding themselves flawed or deficient. This core belief, that they cannot be “fixed,” bonds to their psyches.
- Blame others for their pain and find it difficult to impossible to trust. Often results in controlling behavior.
- Defensive in the face of the slightest criticism where they feel unfavorably judged even if it’s kindly constructive advice from a boss or mate. Leads to passive aggressive interactions.
- Perplexed as to how to establish and enforce healthy boundaries with anyone, giving up their power and abandoning Self as if they’re compelled to do what others want. Subsequently suffer humiliation, guilt or smoldering anger.
- Constantly looking for approval from the outside to counteract the hyper-critical voices within. Thus trouble saying NO.
- Often narcissistic, pretending they have it all together. However, they don’t strive for Self-fulfillment, only for self-Image fulfillment.
- Transversely, they can be selfless, nearly to the point of being a martyr.
- Experience little spontaneity due to the constant monitoring and self-judgment.
- Motivated more by what they want to avoid rather than what they want.
- Usually perfectionists which gives rise to procrastination and non completion of projects. Afflicted with performance anxiety, choking at the critical moment.
How does one dysfunctionally shield Self against that inner demon, shame?
- Create unrealistic expectations
- Use cognitive dissonance
- Blame others and/or choose narcissistic behavior.
How can you heal from shame?
- Face your pain! Own the sorrow and anger, incorporate them and grieve the loss of true nurturance. Your shame and pain are memory components living within your cells. There’s no escaping any part of your unique history.
- Speak your shame aloud to safe, mature people. Therapy is invaluable for this practice. Teaches trust.
- Have compassion for Self. Focus on your intention, not the result. You’re a “good” person so if you’ve made mistakes it must be for complex reasons. It’s never too late to make amends, to add back.
- Try to eliminate good/bad thinking. Replace “This pizza is good” or “That dog sucks” with “I like this thin pizza” or “I don’t like this dog.” The pizza and the dog are what they are regardless of your personal preferences.
- Create consistent boundaries. Practice saying NO to others and YES to your Self (not your compulsions).
- Accept that things are what they are and not what you think they are.
- Feelings live in the body, not the head. If you can’t “feel” it, they aren’t “feelings.”
- When you can laugh at your foibles, especially when you’re “revealed,” then you’re on your way to “healed.”