When you have shame then you might feel as if you are defective at your core, as if you ‘are’ a mistake rather than you have ‘made’ a mistake.
You may experience any of the following when you are put in touch with shame: wanting the ground to swallow you up, being unable to look people in the eye, feelings of self-hatred, feeling frozen to the spot, feeling uber self-conscious, or having an out of body experience, a feeling of freefall or having very negative self talk.
Everyone has shame to some extent or other.
The experience of shame is horrible so that often we put layers of strategies in place so that we never have to go there and feel it. For example we may use alcohol, drugs, work, sex, not to feel it. We may run Obsessive Compulsive Disorders, perfectionism, or collapse into a state of helplessness. We might rush through things and do everything superficially to avoid shame being triggered.
We may also operate a false personae - pretending to be someone we are not, to cover up our real selves since we believe we are shameful.
If you think shame doesn't apply to you then you might have done any or all of those things to not know you have shame.
Although shame can make you feel like there is something deeply wrong with you, if you have shame it is simply an indication that you have been wounded in the past and that your connection with yourself has been ruptured by this.
Examples of being shamed
Perhaps you had things said to you such as ‘Why can’t you be like your brother’ or ‘Boys don’t cry’ or ‘There’s something wrong with you?.
There is a saying ‘Sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me’. This turns out not to be true. Any of those interactions above can rupture your own connection with yourself. Being hit also engenders shame and ruptures self-connection.
Fortunately, self-empathy is one antidote to shame. Having empathy for yourself gets you back on your own side and puts you in touch with your authentic feelings instead of the shame.
Self-empathy requires that you have an overview of your situation and can access a ‘poor me’ stance.
For example Jackie is feeling shame. She feels like she is in freefall and can’t bear for anybody to look at her. She feels like she has to leave the room. She practices self empathy. She gets an overview of what is happening to her and feels empathy. She is shocked by what she is having to hold and how difficult this is for her and feels a genuine sense of ‘poor me’. With this she gets back on her own side, feels herself landing a bit more and becoming more present to herself and she is able to stay in the room and carry on with what she was doing.
The next time you experience yourself feeling shame try having self-empathy for yourself instead and see what happens for you.
It might take a little practice to get the self-empathy going but it is well worth persevering with this as it can be transformational.