The Shame Game
The Shame Game
Shame Versus Self-Esteem:
Hello, My Name Is ... Shame
You know the term. You definitely know the feeling. There s a great possibility, however, that you do not fully understand the meaning and power of shame. The majority of people do not. Even though you may have heard your parents or teachers say to you as a child, "Shame on you!" or "You should be ashamed of yourself!" you were probably unaware of the vast power of those words. All you knew was that it felt awful to be shamed. You walked away from the experience with your head down, shoulders slumped, and tears welling in your eyes. So what exactly is shame and how could it feel so humiliating?
Shame is an emotion that tells you that your
inner self is not OK.
Shame is an emotion that tells you that your inner self is not OK. It tells you that you are unworthy, dishonorable, and disgraceful. Because shame tends to gnaw and fester in your gut, it will not only make you uncomfortable but will also greatly damage your ability to see yourself as you really are. It creates in you the perception that something is fundamentally wrong within your very being. Although you may act as if you have everything together and the world may perceive you as such, your internal voice whispers, "It is a lie. You are not enough."
As you continue to demean yourself, the shame will grow and become excessive. In its pervasiveness, it will create a deep, gut-wrenching feeling that you are worthless, grossly inadequate, less than, and intrinsically bad. You will start to believe that your very existence is a mistake.
Not only is excessive shame uncomfortable, it is within itself toxic and can often become debilitating. As you buy into the message that you are inherently bad, the toxic shame starts to cloud or mask your ability to recognize your true inherent value. You become deluded into believing that your value has been lost or, at best, severely damaged. Picture a diamond that has been covered in mud. Although the diamond's value has not been altered in any way, the mud makes it impossible to recognize the intrinsic value of the diamond. Toxic shame is the mud that impairs your ability to know your inherent value.
Toxic shame will sabotage your ability to live life with spontaneity, joy, and authenticity, thus depleting you of vitality and energy. In order to compensate for the belief that your essence is not enough, you will subconsciously determine that you must act as if you are someone else. You will take on the values and behaviors of those whom you perceive as being adequate so that you are acceptable in the eyes of others. If you are acceptable to others, you can then accept yourself. Because it is uncomfortable being in your own skin, you will develop the ability to become a chameleon depending upon the circumstances. Like a kite blowing in the wind, you will flail this way and that, depending upon the thinking and feeling reality of others. The continuation of this internal desperate process is absolutely exhausting.
In response to feeling ashamed, less than, or inferior, you will either stay in a place of inferiority or develop defense mechanisms that will delude you into believing that you are superior to others. Judgment, criticism, aggressiveness, and self-righteous indignation are some of the ways you may try to cover up your feelings of unworthiness or shame. Saying to yourself, "I am better than others," will temporarily ease the misery of shame. However, the relief will not last and the cover-up behaviors will continue.
In contrast, the absence of shame - or recognizing your true value - creates a feeling of humility. Life becomes a joyful experience as you live from a place of legitimacy and truth, free to be yourself.
Somewhere around four months of age, my first grandchild, Owen,