Shame is a big, bad and powerful emotion. It is an emotion that has the potential to hijack a person, in every way, shape and form. That’s because it thrives and drives off of fear. Shame manifests itself in different ways for every person, but it is present at one time or another.
According to the Webster dictionary, shame is defined as a painful emotion caused by consciousness of guilt, shortcoming, or impropriety. It is the act of believing that you are the root and cause of the wrong experienced in your life. This can extend to inadequacy, not being good enough, unworthiness, not belonging, regret or embarrassment. The implications of shame are extensive and damaging because it literally halts the positive thoughts and robs you of any meaningful connections in your life.
When it comes to shame, anyone and anything can trigger it. Shame is highly personal, and it is perceived as a flaw. The natural behavioral response to shame is to self-protect, or as Brené Brown calls it, a “shame screen.” It’s the overwhelming thought and feeling of being exposed that makes you feel embarrassed and devalued. Over time, it can instinctually drive you to become silent, angry and /or pull away in hopes of finding a good place to hide from everyone. Shame manifests and controls your thoughts, feelings and behaviors. It forms the trifecta which can dramatically affect you so much so that it infects your life, preventing you from being able to establish a meaningful, healthy, long-term connection.
Let me give you an example. Verbally accosting others is one symptom of shame. It can serve as an immediate release. The knee-jerk reaction is to project the negative feeling, thoughts and behaviors onto someone close – a coworker, friend, partner or even family member – in order to feel better. If that person is successful at displacing the shame, it will give them temporary relief, until the next trigger is activated. If this behavioral projection is taken on by anyone close, it can be incredibly painful as the projection perpetuates the cycle of hurt. It can be enough to make a person both physically and emotionally sick. The severity of symptoms can vary based on frequency and intensity of the triggered cycle.
With zero awareness, shame doesn’t discriminate and can become a slippery slope of survival. Between the shame screens and self-sabotage, this powerful emotion can take you down with any form of affliction: anger, depression, anxiety, grief and various addictions. With an awareness and recognition of your life’s blueprints of experiences, you can make different choices that lead to experiencing greater connection with yourself and others. It’s up to you to take the next step of action. Shame is a malicious and complex emotion. The takeaway from feeling shame is that we can identify what areas of our lives are sensitive. Shame can teach us where our weak points are and then we can begin to strengthen those areas and become more aware of our own triggers. This should lead to more empathy and understanding of those around us. If shame hurt us, we know that it can do the same to others.
“Shame isolates and separates. Empathy builds connection, courage and compassion. The choice is yours.” Brené Brown