an article in the Psychotherapy Networker,
therapist Ronald Potter-Efron describes the different
types of shame. Like guilt, shame is one of those
emotions that feels so terrible that some people
try to avoid it at all costs. It's driven by a flooding
of adrenalin. Here is how it works.
We have a conscience and know our values and what
ways of acting in which we believe. When we do something
different than what we believe in, our conscience
nags us to tell us we have done wrong. That is the
feeling of guilt. Guilt is situation specific. It
has a message to try to get you to stop doing something
you find distasteful. It nags, "You did something
wrong. Stop doing it." Guilt can be productive in
helping you change your behavior. If you deny what
you did wrong and deny the guilty feelings, you
cement it in further. You may even use anger to
make guilt go away and get the person who is confronting
you to back off. Owning your mistakes and inappropriate
behavior, apologizing for them and stopping the
behavior is the best way to reduce guilt.
Shame is a message about the self esteem that hits
in the pit of the stomach. It is global in nature
and says, "You are bad. You are different." It happens
when you feel threatened to the very core of who
you are. Shame rears its ugly head when there is
a threat and you feel helpless, humiliated and dehumanized.
If you lose control when you are angry, you have
learned to substitute the emotion of rage to take
yourself out of the bad feelings of being a victim.
Rage is a much stronger emotion than anger. When
you rage, you lose self control and adrenalin and
cortisol prepare you to fight. You heat up and go
from zero to one hundred twenty miles an hour in
ten seconds in a run-away giant semi. And you are
not in control of the wheel. Someone very nasty
has the pedal to the metal and ugly things are coming
out of the mouth which you will feel bad about later.
You have been hijacked! You have lost yourself because
rage has taken you over when you felt a threat to
your self esteem.
The threat is to your sense of who you are and comes
out of frustration and shame. According to Potter-Efron
four different threats produce four different kinds
of hormonally-driven rage that come from different
types of shame.
Survival Rage-when you are physically attacked and
might be hurt.
Impotent Rage-when you feel threatened and feel
utterly helpless and not able to deal with the
situation so you rage instead.
Attachment Rage-when you feel threatened because
you might be abandoned or rejected by someone
you care about. This type may have developed if
you had a rejecting type parent who used withdrawal
and threats to discipline you.
Shame Rage-when you feel humiliated, embarrassed,
or ridiculed and your self esteem takes a drop
and you rage to cut off these bad feelings. This
type typically develops if you've had a critical,
abusing parent or partner or were bullied as a
Other kinds of shame specific to certain situations
where you feel like you are less than others.
I'm Not Trash Shame Rage-if your family was poor
or lived in a run down place or your parents were
dysfunctional alcoholics or different in some
undesirable way, you probably were embarrassed
by them as a child. As an adult, you get angry
when you are reminded of how you are different
Loss of Function Shame Rage-loss of your identity
as a person because you are less than the person
you used to be. You may have lost stamina, memory
or are disabled and can't work.
Guilt Piling Up Shame Rage-secretly you feel downright
ashamed of yourself because you have not lived
up to your values and principles and have become
a person you don't respect. When criticized about
your behavior, you resort to rage to get the other
person to leave you alone.
the Threat-Hormonal Arousal-Shame-Rage Cycle
Potter-Efron says to challenge the five core messages
that you get from shame which send you into self-loathing
and feeling worthless. 1.) You're no good. 2.)You
aren't good enough. 3.)You're unlovable. 4.) You
don't belong. 5.) You shouldn't be. These are lies
that were thrown on you by someone else and your
own feelings of helplessness.
Cutting off shame instead of allowing the feeling
to come up and be worked through and turning it
to rage only keeps the cycle going. As long as you
disrupt the feelings of shame, they will stay with
you. The best idea is to bring them out into the
light and learn to work them through. Understand
the dynamics that send you from feeing threatened
to rage so that you don't feel the shame. Read about
shame, bullying and scapegoating. Make a personal
challenge to break destructive patterns in your
life. Figure out what types of shame you have.
What triggers your impotent, helpless feelings and
what sets you off? Become aware of what's happening
within to become the master of your feelings instead
of letting them master you. Learn to observe the
process of feeling a threat (a trigger that threatens
self esteem) and the quick shift to rage. Step back
and watch how you lose your control and give away
your power to do something productive when you feel
When a vulnerable feelings of disappointment and
frustration comes up say, "This is a feeling.
It's only a feeling. Feelings are meant to be
felt. That's why they are called feelings. I choose
to breathe through this feeling rather than act
Allow yourself to feel the emotion of guilt and
own up to what you did wrong. Taking responsibility
for your own actions can become a way to gain
self esteem. Allow yourself to feel the emotion
of shame. Leave the upsetting situation and hang
out with the feelings of shame. To defuse its
power, call it by name. "So this is shame. I'm
being flooded with adrenalin. I can handle this.
Even though it feels excruciating, I breathe it
Find a therapist to help you look at the pattern
of violence that you learned in your family, the
neighborhood or at school when you were young
or when you were in an abusive relationship. Living
with an aggressive person may have affected you
so deeply that you took on the energies of the
aggressor. Redefine your masculinity or your sense
of self as a strong woman as being able to take
things as they come up. Real strength is learning
to allow feelings of hurt, disappointment and
vulnerability instead of losing your cool.
Listen to your body. Catch yourself when you start
to trigger, heat up and lose control. Observe
how your body reacts when you are about to trigger.
Does your stomach knot up or your jaw clench?
Do you stop breathing? Do you feel the adrenalin
rush as your first clue? Does your heart beat
faster? Find your body changes that signal you
are about to lose it. Learn body cues to break
into the cycle before it goes into nasty behavior.
Show your strength by being the one who chooses
not to escalate the fight. Let the other person
know that you must leave the situation at once
to calm yourself down in order to not hurt yourself
or the other person. Give up the need to have
the last word or make one more point. Tell yourself
that you can be a bigger person by stopping the
Use self talk to keep yourself from blowing up.
Talk yourself down. Use several phrases that calm
you down such as "This isn't worth it. I refuse
to lose it. I don't have to go down the rage road.
I can leave instead of blowing up and ruining
things." Cool yourself down with deep breathing.
Tell yourself, "I will learn to deal with frustrating
Shame is released by processing feelings of entitlement.
Challenge your belief that you have the right
to vent and scream because you are frustrated.
Find a therapist to help you use The Emotional
Freedom Technique, Eye Movement Desensitization
and Reprocessing and The Tapas Technique to release
old victim feelings and entitlement.
Be gentle with yourself as you are learning these
new skills. You are breaking habits of a lifetime.
If you mess up and revert back to the mean behavior
you dislike, analyze what went wrong. Don't beat
yourself up-that only makes things worse. Tell
yourself that you made a slip and you will be
more careful next time. Keep at this process of
chipping away the shame-rage cycle. You will get
better over time if you keep at this task of becoming
the best person you can be. Give yourself a break;
this process takes time.
You are not a bad person because you rage when you
feel helpless or bad about yourself. You are just
a good person behaving badly. Forgive yourself for
doing what you have learned and vow to be different.
Change the destructive reactive pattern of shame/rage
and develop into the person you really want to be.
Use your power to understand your emotions, own
them and work with them instead of acting them out.
Learn to behave better even when you feel bad inside.
Deeply desire to change and you will. You deserve
to have a peaceful, happy life.