is a fear-based internal state accompanied by feelings
of being unworthy and unlovable.
Shame conjures up brief, intense painful feelings
of mortification due to being seen as inadequate.
Shame feelings are a threat to the integrity of
the self. It keeps us caught in fear of being found
out by others. The perceived deficit is so humiliating
that the person goes to great lengths to hide the
Induced causes of shame by others include a betrayal
by them in some way. Trust in often broken through
parental disapproval and judgment. Harsh, critical
parental behavior produces shame-prone, perfectionistic
children who then pass the family bad habit down
to their children. The energy of shame of others
is contagious and can be passed from one individual
to another. In this manner, family dysfunction is
handed down from one generation to the other.
Parental withdrawal, rejection or favoritism of
a sibling cause deep fears of abandonment and shame.
The child feels that he must be really bad or his
parents do not love him. Parents who have too high
expectations of behavior, criticism and disapproval
for failure create shame as the child cannot realistically
live up to the high expectations. Parental humiliation
and punishment for distress, crying or making a
mistake creates the need in the child to try to
hide his vulnerability. He worries incessantly about
what others think, fears public failure and stops
taking risks due to fear of social disapproval.
He is becomes afraid of rejection and abandonment.
When parents point the "bony finger of blame" at
a child and say "Shame on you. Shame. Shame. You
are a __________. " the child learns to believe
that he is unworthy. He may then act out inappropriately
and become what the parent has labeled him. Doing
what the parent has accused him up is the self-fulfilling
The trauma of being bullied or physical and sexual
abuse imprints major feelings of being devalued
and unworthy in the victim. Shame can pass from
the perpetrator to the victim. People who live in
abusive relationships where they feel helpless learn
the shame-rage cycle. Shame and rage are passed
from one person to another through learning to act
like the aggressor.
Some churches use shame to control their members
by preaching rigid rules which are inconsistent
with human nature. The more that "hell and damnation"
are emphasized, the more guilt and shame the members
Guilt is a feeling that we did something wrong.
Guilt is usually tied to a specific behavior. Guilt
says, "I did something bad. I must pay." Common
causes of guilt are violation of society's' values
around sexual and aggressive behavior, issues around
bathroom functions care and being different and
being looked down upon by others. We create guilt
and shame in ourselves when we engage in morally-inappropriate
behavior and get caught and there is public humiliation.
Guilt is about actions, shame is about the self.
Shame says "I am bad. I am different." The shame
core can build up after engaging in behaviors you
know are wrong. Accumulated guilt by continuing
to act in ways that you know are wrong can turn
Guilt and shame can build up with repeated incidents
of humiliation and lead to internal global beliefs
of "I am unworthy. I don't deserve good things.
I am unlovable. " The feelings around these deep
core beliefs are so bad that they must be avoided
at all costs. Other more acceptable feelings such
as sadness, anger or rage get substituted instead.
Shame is the shaper of symptoms. It creates a false
self where you cannot be real. It can create nasty
behaviors that you regret later. Repressed shame
leads to substituting more acceptable emotions (to
you) such as anger, rage, depression and anxiety
to reduce the internal tension that is so hard to
bear. Other defenses of shame include macho behavior,
intellectualization and shutting down feelings.
Controlling, blaming, criticizing or feeling superior
to others are other common defenses to avoid feelings
of shame. Engaging in excessive use of alcohol,
substances and addictive behavior may be an indicator
of shame. Drunken behavior may then cause more shame.
Engaging in behaviors that society frowns upon creates
more guilt and shame.
In the shame/rage cycle, there is an instant flooding
of adrenalin and cortisol to prepare the person
to fight back. You come under the control of fight
or flight hormones and attack the other person going
for their jugular vein. Your common sense goes out
the window as you lose your personal sense of responsibility
and then lose control.
Patterns of dysfunctional behavior in a person's
life usually indicate a strong internal shame core.
Lack of intimacy and connection to others indicates
a lack of trust which was brought about by early
feelings of helplessness and humiliation. Repressed
shame and guilt cause a lack of trust of others
and a deep breach or separation from others and
the real self.
Rage is always about entitlement and feeling insecure
inside. The person believes he has the right to
vent and yell to get the other person to back off.
He uses anger to intimidate others to get them to
leave you alone. Bad behavior works to reduce the
threat, but it damages relationships.
At some point in your, the old defenses of anger,
rage and running away from pain no longer work.
Shame comes up big time. Your life crashes and you
hit an emotional bottom. An important relationship
is threatened or ends which may prompt you to seek
Shame is the Shaper of Symptoms but It is Also
the Way Home
One purpose of the negative emotion is to help us
look at those aspects of ourself that is not congruent
with our deepest values and understanding of what
it means to be human from a soul level. You can
use your shameful feelings as a signal that something
needs examining. The anxiety around the painful
past must be entered into and moved through.
Understanding how shame works helps release it.
Shame can be released through owning it, talking
about it and processing the original painful experiences.
Uncomfortable feeling can be accessed and worked
through with the help of a skillful therapist. The
shame reduction work must be experiential; it usually
cannot be released on an intellectual level. Laughter
about one's predicament sometimes helps shift shame
You can learn to become a detective on your own
emotions and behavior so you can break into the
hormonal hijackings that spiral you into bad behavior.
You can learn to detach and become an observer of
your own internal state of shame choosing not to
shut down the painful feelings but to stay present
and learn from them. When you get upset, step back
and watch how the ugly adrenalin-driven behavior
takes away from being the person you really want
to be. The shame-rage link was learned. The association
between hormones and bad behavior can be unlearned.
You can learn to break into beliefs of being entitled
to scream and yell to shut the others down. You
can break the belief of "I get to hurt others by
my ugly words because I feel an uncomfortable feeling."
You can stop the attitude of "I earn the money here
so I get to do what I want and violence is justified.
You can learn better communication skills. You can
stop focusing on blaming your partner and take responsibility
for your part of the problem. You can try to see
the issue through your partner's eyes. This is about
finally becoming a grown up!
The cleaning out of the global beliefs of "I am
bad. I am a bad person. I am not safe. I will be
rejected because I am unworthy. I will be abandoned."
takes time and exploration but it can be done with
a therapist who understands the process of shame
release and can stay present with unconditional
love. The other side of shame is "I am worthy even
though I make mistakes. I am a good person even
if I get angry. I am lovable." The truth is that
you are a beautiful person who was shamed as a child
and you now need to claim yourself as being worthy
of being loved.
Bring the integrity of who you are forward and work
your early painful issues through to create a different
understanding of the early painful experiences that
caused shame. Turning the shame over to something
greater than oneself can negate those global beliefs
Feelings of guilt and shame can be worked out with
a competent, compassionate therapist. When shame
release work is combined in therapy with assertiveness
training and learning to speak up and say no, to
state boundaries and to share feelings, self esteem
No easy task, but there it is. By careful monitoring
and studying your shame and rage and breaking into
them you can become the master of your feelings.
If this is the work that you came to do, then the
higher part of who you are says, "Let's be about
For further information about shame, read The Drama
Triangle, Scapegoating and all the articles on family
violence and narcissism on the Angries Out web site