Humans get it wrong sometimes. When we live we take risks that we will sometimes make a mistake, hurt someone we love, do something wrong, or simply mess up.
When that mistake, that error in behaviour or hurt in words turns inwards and challenges our sense of who we are or how we see ourselves we can feel shame. A degree of shame allows us to make amends, to seek forgiveness, to reconcile, but when we have no recourse to do that or its become such a deep and familiar part of who we are we start out on a path of self destruct, often masking the real vulnerability in a range of damaging behaviours, such as isolation, addiction, self harm and depression.
It can consume us so that we lose sight of action, of how to turn it around, how to re evaluate who we are.
Shame is a complex state to be in, made up of so many layers of emotions and self-recriminations. It can be paralysing in the moment and longer term can lead to insecurity, isolation, feeling of being different—that ‘if you only knew what I'd done you wouldn’t want to be with me’’ dialogue that goes on in our heads.
We can experience shame in different ways.
When our own sense of who we are is under threat by ourselves—when we are hard on ourselves, don’t let ourselves off the hook, replay everything bad about ourselves.
When we believe others to be looking at us, scrutinising us, judging us, and not understanding our behaviour or us.
And when we experience shame on behalf of others—perhaps a family member who struggles with addiction, or has a long-term illness that others might not take the time to understand, or culturally on behalf of our community or society.
Owning up to and acknowledging our sense of shame can be hard—the very thing we want to hide also has to become public, it takes risk and bravery to put it out there, to ‘own up’ to what we see as our ‘bad self’. Whether its something we have to start to accept about our self, or how we feel about another it takes courage to speak it.
It comes with that horrible feeling of not being good enough, not being the same as, not deserving of care, love or attention, and is often a precursor to a host of other emotional and physical issues as we attempt to mask, manage or fight what we feel.
Beginning to open up, to allow someone in is the step towards understanding our shame and when we begin to understand we allow space for healing.