I have been thinking a lot lately about Shame. Brené Brown did some incredible research on this topic. Recently, among my colleagues, there was a discussion about shame, and more so, shame and how this emotion is different from guilt.
Many of us feel so guilty – All Of The Time. Like we caused pain or harm, or did something “bad” just by speaking or acting in a way that felt right to you, but resulted in another to react as a result (e.g. turning down an invite or a request and you just know the other person is resenting you for it). But did you really cause harm? There are many of us out here that work so hard – So Hard – to make others happy, or to accommodate or adjust our own needs and desires so those around us can feel okay (e.g. kids, partners, clients, friends, parents, siblings, coworkers, neighbors). We tend to feel guilty if we have to (or if they) set a boundary (e.g. say “no” or “I don’t want to” or “I don’t like that”) and they seem or actually are unhappy with us. Many of us tend to even take their displeasure as our fault and is we are doing damage to the relationship as a result. But is it your fault? Did you really do anything “bad”? Really? If you legitimately did something harmful or hurtful, make amends, repair it with that person (Note – Repair is the most important part of a conflict anyway). But I can almost guarantee your feeling of being wrong or bad or the cause of their pain actually ties back to Shame. Shame is caused by core wounds, usually occurring early in our lives, where our Spirit or core sense of self was wounded or threatened by repeat negative messaging that something about who and how we were was wrong in some way. Shame is the emotion tied to the sense of "I am bad" or "I am not enough". This happens from religion, from parents or even our peers who had unhealed and unidentified trauma or shame wounds of their own, that your very nature of being triggered their own shame completely unrelated to you.
Research has identified that Shame actually acts exactly like trauma biologically in the body and is stored in a very similar fashion. We experience an arousal and a need to protect.
Shame triggers defense mechanisms to keep us safe from harm to our Spirit or core self. Often looking like many of the following behaviors:
- Looking away or avoiding eye contact
- Avoidance of someone
- Irritability or Anger
- Being quick to tears
Often, I find for myself, when I am ruminating or what I like to call “spinning out” in my mind about something, with a strong desire to fix, correct, or to figure out how to change it – I am in a state of Shame. I see parents do this all of the time when their child has a meltdown and they have an intense need to make their child happy again and quickly for fear of causing damage to their child and it being all their fault. I believe that the majority of the time we were absolutely not the true cause of the other person’s reaction, but rather we only triggered their own Shame, fear, and unhealed trauma wounds. Sure - we triggered the reaction with the boundary - but the reaction and the intensity of the others' reaction is completely stemming from their own unmet core need, sense of lack, or fear. For any of us, we need to tune into and explore where we learned we were lacking in some way.
Many of us are walking around protecting our shame by our very actions and efforts every single day within many of our interactions. It is not our job to make others feel happy or content. That is their work. We are actually preventing their soul growth by taking it on as ours to heal or fix. Sure it makes the other feel okay or even you with yourself if they are okay with you again, but you are actually just giving up your own power. You end up fracturing a piece of your energy body to “help”. But who is this truly helping?
We, as humans, really must learn to tolerate and regulate around emotions period. Ours and others' emotions. We cannot keep trying to turn off the faucet and we cannot keep fearing they will never stop. To truly understand another's emotions, we must get comfortable understanding our own.
When we mask or bury our shame we are not authentically showing up in relationships. This impacts the magnetic pull within the relationship. There is nothing to connect to and you both are left feeling uneasy or unfulfilled. You’re just left feeling unheard or unseen. The other person blocked from having the gift of you being their mirror or having them as your mirror.
In healthy interactions, we all become each other’s mirror, showing us what we need to attend to our Spirit for growth, and showing us our worth to receive Love. We are gifts to each other, holding the keys for each of us to grow so we can once again return to our unified state within Source/God/Creation/Universal Energy of Love.
I have found for myself, whenever I have that feeling within an interaction that I just did or said something “causing” the other to react, I am actually experiencing shame. Just the practice of labeling it “Shame” actually feels containing. I can handle working through my "Shame" when I realize that is all it is and that there is not something unworthy about me (which is never the Truth anyway). When I contain it in this way, I can be more present and hold the energy of Love for the other by honoring and hearing or validating their feeling or experience, because I know it is true for them and it is not actually about me anyway. It is never our job to tell another what is or isn’t happening. This is their reality or truth – Their experience. When you can meet shame with Love and Compassion it can immediately take the power out of it for both of you.
Meeting your own shame with Compassion and Love will also help take the power out of it for you too. Showing your body and your Spirit you will protect it – That the pain of the past is no longer true today.
We all enter little (or big) Shame Spirals, but to truly heal we must learn to recognize, honor, and love ourselves enough to understand our shame. To truly be able to be present with another person’s shame, we must understand our own.
Remember – We too are Source Energy and cannot be harmed nor are unworthy. We must repeatedly meet our own Shame and others’ shame with Love, Compassion, and Containment so we can finally unravel the knots that are sitting in our energy bodies and causing us fear or over-caretaking in our relationships.
If you are struggling to understand your own Shame or emotions and it is impacting your relationships, I would be happy to join you on your own journey to greater realization and growth, check out my services page for ways I might be able to support you.
Angela is a MN Licensed Mental Health Therapist and Usui Reiki Master. She has a deep personal commitment to Spiritual Growth and continuous Awakening and is always striving to support you in as many ways as she can to finding creative ways for Connecting Soul To Source.