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Understanding Shame

Dark111

SF Supporter
#1
Shame has come up a couple of times in my therapy sessions over the past couple of weeks, and I'm interested in gaining a fuller understanding of it, in particular toxic shame.

I'm aware there maybe nothing new or revelatory about anything I'm posting here, but hope it might lead to an interesting conversation or two. Drawing from some of the well-rounded expositions available on the subject shame, if I were to list some of the more salient features, they would be as follows(ref: The Aspie Teacher):

1. It can hide in our unconscious, so that we’re unaware that we have shame.
2. When we experience shame, it lasts much longer.
3. The feelings and pain associated with shame are of greater intensity.
4. An external event isn’t required to trigger it. Our own thoughts can bring on feelings of shame.
5. It leads to shame spirals that cause depression and feelings of hopelessness and despair.
6. It causes chronic “shame anxiety” – the fear of experiencing shame.
7. It is often associated with a negative “shame story” about ourselves.
8. We needn’t recall the original source of the immediate shame, which usually originated in childhood or a prior trauma.
9. It creates deep feelings of inadequacy.

Quilt and Shame are often used interchangeably so it's worth noting there's a difference between the two: "Shame is a focus on self, guilt is a focus on behavior. Shame is “I am bad.” Guilt is “I did something bad.” How many of you, if you did something that was hurtful to me, would be willing to say, “I’m sorry. I made a mistake?” How many of you would be willing to say that? Guilt: I’m sorry. I made a mistake. Shame: I’m sorry. I am a mistake."

According to emotions researcher Sylvan Tompkins, the emotion of shame occurs as a result of the thwarting of positive emotions; or an experience of rejection when we reach out for connection. Like when a child expresses excitement to a parent who responds with disinterest, shame occurs when our joy goes unmatched, when our gifts are not acknowledged, or when we take a risk and experience failure. And while shame is certainly connected to overt experiences of childhood abuse or neglect, it is also the result of an accumulation of small and subtle rejections of your authentic self-expression. When left unhealed, shame can lead to a wide range of symptoms including depression, addictions, low self-esteem, and interpersonal problems. It's even been found that shame-proneness in fifth grade accurately predicts troubled behavior in young-adulthood, such drug and alcohol use, risky sexual behavior, legal involvement, suicide attempts, and degree of involvement or involvement with the community.

For anyone reading who struggles or has struggled with shame, feel free to share your own experiences.
 

Nick

☆☆Still Ducking Fantastic ☆☆
Safety & Support
SF Supporter
#3
Shame is one of those things that sticks in my mind. It hangs in there and refuses to let go. Constantly told growing up I wasn't good enough, I wasn't right enough, I wasn't whole enough, I just plain wasn't enough. I grew up being told to be ashamed of who I am, what I've been through and where I've come from. Shame is integrated into me and separating that at this point is extremely difficult.

In therapy I was told to just change the way I think. If only it were that simple. I can't believe things I truly believe are lies and I struggle to see how my inept behavior somehow in truth makes me someone not to be ashamed of. I can accept that others believe I am more than I am able to see. I struggle to see why.
 

Dante

SF Supporter
#4
In recent years, I have taken a rather mechanical view of emotion, they are a form of genetic behavioural conditioning, like Pavlovian training built into your genes, the purpose of ALL of these emotions being survival, specifically, survival in the environment we evolved in (not necessarily still suited to our current environment).

So for example, Anger is a conditioning which is mainly geared to punishing others for treating us poorly, this way they will think twice about treating us poorly next time, in caveman times (you get what I mean) poor treatment could be to injure you take something you need for survival, so anger kicks in to knock that individual down to teach him through pain that hurting you is a bad idea.

Happiness is a mechanism for promoting correct behaviour, you seek out things that make you happy, like a good meal, or good company, in caveman times that would spur you to hunt or surround yourself with comrades (strength in numbers).

Now having skimmed over the other two examples, lets get to the point: I see Shame as having 2 functions
1) To strengthen social cohesion in a group
2) To identify and correct shortcomings
Both of these functions revolve around changing yourself to match the requirements of your group.

1) In caveman times, if you fail to meet the expectations of the group, or end up getting rejected by the group, this could negatively impact your survival chances, as you will have less people watching your back, and those who are watching your back are less inclined to risk themselves for you. So, by making you feel bad about yourself, it is a pressure to make you change yourself to better fit the group. Unpopular traits are weeded out in this way to make a more homogenised group, which, though lacking diversity, can function more smoothly together, be a more effective unit.

Modern version, you could feel shame about your favourite music being kind of odd, so you will learn to like your friends group's music so you can all enjoy music together rather than the group having to listen to something they dont like, or forcing you to not listen to something you like. By feeling shame and changing, you now fit the group better.

2) Again in caveman times if everyone in your group can run for 20 minutes without getting tired and you can only run for 5, then you are either risking your life or theirs, if they stay with you, you could get some of them killed and thus risk rejection by the group, if you get rejected then you risk them leaving, which adversely affects your survival chances.

In modern times, it could be a simple as being a downer, you feel shame at always being miserable, so you may try to hide it, this will make your friends less averse to spending time with you and this closer friendship could make you happier.

So basically Shame is a genetic psychological conditioning to force us to change ourselves to mimic those around us, this makes us accepted by the group, this makes us work to overcome what the group considers a shortcoming (poor athletic ability being a common one). It is largely based on the wisdom of crowds, what the crowd things is correct is usually correct, mainly due to the law of averages, if everyone makes a rough guess, the average should be the correct answer, so the shame emotion makes everyone change to closer match the average.

The problem with shame is that people often dont give you the chance to change, and change is not always necessary, helpful, or possible, also, the expectations of others are often superfluous, unnecessary or downright harmful to you, and most of all, your own shame will often be used against you as a weapon to manipulate you.

I think the best thing to do with shame is recognise what it is for and either follow what it is trying to force you into, or where that is not appropriate, necessary, helpful or possible, accept that shame is not correct in this case, that you have no good reason to be ashamed, that you are fine as you are.

That's just my thoughts.


P.s. sorry for what is a painfully long and probably underwhelming lecture about my opinion on the subject.
 

Dark111

SF Supporter
#7
Shame is one of those things that sticks in my mind. It hangs in there and refuses to let go. Constantly told growing up I wasn't good enough, I wasn't right enough, I wasn't whole enough, I just plain wasn't enough. I grew up being told to be ashamed of who I am, what I've been through and where I've come from. Shame is integrated into me and separating that at this point is extremely difficult.

In therapy I was told to just change the way I think. If only it were that simple. I can't believe things I truly believe are lies and I struggle to see how my inept behavior somehow in truth makes me someone not to be ashamed of. I can accept that others believe I am more than I am able to see. I struggle to see why.
Changing the way we think is never simple. And the pernicious thing about shame is that it actually makes sense to feel it so intensely. There's a very persuasive logic to it's sting.

Shame is deeply connected to feelings of unworthiness. But inside all the muck lies your undeniably legitimate human needs. I see no reason why your longings and desires are not as important as anyone else's. When something is important to you, have you noticed a tendency to dismiss yourself? If something is important to you…than it is important.

Shame is a wound that develops in interpersonal and environmental contexts, so healing needs to occur not only within the self, but also within a social context. Initially, this may occur in a one-on-one relationship such as in therapy, as you mention, but eventually you need to feel like you belong to a community. Inline with the idea of legitimizing one's needs, if your needs are denied by one person, you can find other people that actually meet your needs. You can find people who meet you with enthusiasm now, even if you weren’t celebrated as a child. Would SF be your community in this regard?
 

Dark111

SF Supporter
#8
In recent years, I have taken a rather mechanical view of emotion, they are a form of genetic behavioural conditioning, like Pavlovian training built into your genes, the purpose of ALL of these emotions being survival, specifically, survival in the environment we evolved in (not necessarily still suited to our current environment).

So for example, Anger is a conditioning which is mainly geared to punishing others for treating us poorly, this way they will think twice about treating us poorly next time, in caveman times (you get what I mean) poor treatment could be to injure you take something you need for survival, so anger kicks in to knock that individual down to teach him through pain that hurting you is a bad idea.

Happiness is a mechanism for promoting correct behaviour, you seek out things that make you happy, like a good meal, or good company, in caveman times that would spur you to hunt or surround yourself with comrades (strength in numbers).

Now having skimmed over the other two examples, lets get to the point: I see Shame as having 2 functions
1) To strengthen social cohesion in a group
2) To identify and correct shortcomings
Both of these functions revolve around changing yourself to match the requirements of your group.

1) In caveman times, if you fail to meet the expectations of the group, or end up getting rejected by the group, this could negatively impact your survival chances, as you will have less people watching your back, and those who are watching your back are less inclined to risk themselves for you. So, by making you feel bad about yourself, it is a pressure to make you change yourself to better fit the group. Unpopular traits are weeded out in this way to make a more homogenised group, which, though lacking diversity, can function more smoothly together, be a more effective unit.

Modern version, you could feel shame about your favourite music being kind of odd, so you will learn to like your friends group's music so you can all enjoy music together rather than the group having to listen to something they dont like, or forcing you to not listen to something you like. By feeling shame and changing, you now fit the group better.

2) Again in caveman times if everyone in your group can run for 20 minutes without getting tired and you can only run for 5, then you are either risking your life or theirs, if they stay with you, you could get some of them killed and thus risk rejection by the group, if you get rejected then you risk them leaving, which adversely affects your survival chances.

In modern times, it could be a simple as being a downer, you feel shame at always being miserable, so you may try to hide it, this will make your friends less averse to spending time with you and this closer friendship could make you happier.

So basically Shame is a genetic psychological conditioning to force us to change ourselves to mimic those around us, this makes us accepted by the group, this makes us work to overcome what the group considers a shortcoming (poor athletic ability being a common one). It is largely based on the wisdom of crowds, what the crowd things is correct is usually correct, mainly due to the law of averages, if everyone makes a rough guess, the average should be the correct answer, so the shame emotion makes everyone change to closer match the average.

The problem with shame is that people often dont give you the chance to change, and change is not always necessary, helpful, or possible, also, the expectations of others are often superfluous, unnecessary or downright harmful to you, and most of all, your own shame will often be used against you as a weapon to manipulate you.

I think the best thing to do with shame is recognise what it is for and either follow what it is trying to force you into, or where that is not appropriate, necessary, helpful or possible, accept that shame is not correct in this case, that you have no good reason to be ashamed, that you are fine as you are.

That's just my thoughts.


P.s. sorry for what is a painfully long and probably underwhelming lecture about my opinion on the subject.
True Indeed, since the time of our prehistoric ancestors, shame has been used as an effective means of enforcing group cohesion, and therefore group survival. This is well documented.

In terms of how we experience shame today in the modern world, your point that sometimes we need to listen to what shame is telling us is refreshing. Nowadays the goal posts are constantly shifting in terms of what behavior should be shamed and behavior where shaming is absolutely forbidden. Frankly, It has a very engineered feel to it. The type of shame I'm most interested in here is the type you say is inappropriate & unnecessary: toxic shame.

The challenge with this type of shame is that it's hooked into the core beliefs that a person has about themselves. Not to say healing isn't possible, just that it can be a complicated beast.
 

HappyKitty

•✮• SF's pet kitty •✮•
#9
I do have shaming, behind my shaming is all my kryptonite in which where I’m struggling to not let it overwhelmed my suicidal thoughts.
 

Dark111

SF Supporter
#15
i think so since it has lead me to experience fears and limitations a lot.👀
Hmm ok. Normally people take refuge from shame not in it. But I want to understand what you mean, so bear with me.

Shame has often been defined as an “unthought known'. What this means is that on some level we know about our shame but we are too ashamed to reflect on it. The presence of shame compels us to hide it because the pain is so acute. Shame conceals itself from conscious recognition, because identifying it inflames the original wound, and it is instinctual for the mind and body to avoid pain. The person who believes himself to be inferior, worthless, weak and powerless does not want to know this about himself because he does not want to acknowledge that it is true. To acknowledge the truth of his shame might stimulate feelings of self-hatred or abandonment terror. Importantly, shame pathology can be so intense, and generate such powerful negative feelings toward the self, that the shamed individual is unable to derive self-esteem from within. Do you think it's that aspect of shame that drives your fears and limitations?
 

HappyKitty

•✮• SF's pet kitty •✮•
#16
Hmm ok. Normally people take refuge from shame not in it. But I want to understand what you mean, so bear with me.

Shame has often been defined as an “unthought known'. What this means is that on some level we know about our shame but we are too ashamed to reflect on it. The presence of shame compels us to hide it because the pain is so acute. Shame conceals itself from conscious recognition, because identifying it inflames the original wound, and it is instinctual for the mind and body to avoid pain. The person who believes himself to be inferior, worthless, weak and powerless does not want to know this about himself because he does not want to acknowledge that it is true. To acknowledge the truth of his shame might stimulate feelings of self-hatred or abandonment terror. Importantly, shame pathology can be so intense, and generate such powerful negative feelings toward the self, that the shamed individual is unable to derive self-esteem from within. Do you think it's that aspect of shame that drives your fears and limitations?
ooo so interesting. I’ll give it a thought and reply you in dm in the morning. night. 😺
 

Nick

☆☆Still Ducking Fantastic ☆☆
Safety & Support
SF Supporter
#17
Changing the way we think is never simple. And the pernicious thing about shame is that it actually makes sense to feel it so intensely. There's a very persuasive logic to it's sting.

Shame is deeply connected to feelings of unworthiness. But inside all the muck lies your undeniably legitimate human needs. I see no reason why your longings and desires are not as important as anyone else's. When something is important to you, have you noticed a tendency to dismiss yourself? If something is important to you…than it is important.

Shame is a wound that develops in interpersonal and environmental contexts, so healing needs to occur not only within the self, but also within a social context. Initially, this may occur in a one-on-one relationship such as in therapy, as you mention, but eventually you need to feel like you belong to a community. Inline with the idea of legitimizing one's needs, if your needs are denied by one person, you can find other people that actually meet your needs. You can find people who meet you with enthusiasm now, even if you weren’t celebrated as a child. Would SF be your community in this regard?
I have a bad habit of dismissing anything that is important to me. If it isn't important to anyone else, than I assume it isn't important at all. It must not matter if nobody cares about it.

Social context is an incredibly difficult thing for me to grasp. I have autism, and consequently struggle in social situations. I'm not able to read the situation or the feelings of others correctly, or at all sometimes. I'm completely incapable of reading between the lines. If things are hinted to me, I'm not going to take the hint. I find very limited people who are able to put up with or understand my complete lack of ability to socialize appropriately. There are some here, but even here I often find I am not like the others. My lack of ability to assimilate as part of what causes me shame. I have found that rare gem that can see past my overwhelming flaws. I am not able to see past them.

After spending nearly a year attempting to change my brain to be more appealing and less socially inept, I came no closer to the goal. It was pointed out to me that fixing myself so others may appreciate me, was making me insane. I've abandoned my quest and accepted my brain is wired differently and as much as I'd like that not to be the case I cannot change reality. I does not change the fact I was trained to be ashamed of who I am, and that I am unable to change who I am. Acceptance is the only answer, but how do I accept that I am a pariah.
 

WolfGoddess

Well-Known Member
#18
Thank you for starting this conversation, I think it's incredibly important. I like the initial distinction made, "guilt" is about what we did, "shame" is about who we are. Shaming has certainly been a weapon used for social control (perhaps originally for social cohesion, but as we've become a more punishment-based society I think that's changed).

We can't control all of the external messages that we get, but we can work on ourselves and be willing to acknowledge wrong-doing or harmful acts without believing that it makes us something less as people. I know it's been mentioned here already and I agree with the idea that very often we don't even allow for accountability - for people to try to make up for what they did, to show change.

Just my thoughts :)
 

Dark111

SF Supporter
#19
I have a bad habit of dismissing anything that is important to me. If it isn't important to anyone else, than I assume it isn't important at all. It must not matter if nobody cares about it.

Social context is an incredibly difficult thing for me to grasp. I have autism, and consequently struggle in social situations. I'm not able to read the situation or the feelings of others correctly, or at all sometimes. I'm completely incapable of reading between the lines. If things are hinted to me, I'm not going to take the hint. I find very limited people who are able to put up with or understand my complete lack of ability to socialize appropriately. There are some here, but even here I often find I am not like the others. My lack of ability to assimilate as part of what causes me shame. I have found that rare gem that can see past my overwhelming flaws. I am not able to see past them.

After spending nearly a year attempting to change my brain to be more appealing and less socially inept, I came no closer to the goal. It was pointed out to me that fixing myself so others may appreciate me, was making me insane. I've abandoned my quest and accepted my brain is wired differently and as much as I'd like that not to be the case I cannot change reality. I does not change the fact I was trained to be ashamed of who I am, and that I am unable to change who I am. Acceptance is the only answer, but how do I accept that I am a pariah.
Hey Nick. Being a pariah pretty much sucks all round so of course you don't want to accept that. Who would want to? What you could do there instead is acknowledge that a lot of "neurotypicals" get antsy around people who are not like them. Try projecting just a little bit, you don't need to introvert on everything. And while I'm all for accepting who we are and how our brains happen to work, that doesn't include accepting the shaming for that very same thing.

Having said that, shame being what it is, how about taking the approach of choosing what beliefs we allow ourselves to act out? You admit yourself that it's a bad habit the way you dismiss anything that's important to you just because it's not important to anyone else. As you know, habits can be broken and replaced with less self-defeating ones. So how about thinking: ok, this is important to me so I choose to treat it as such and act accordingly. I'm not sure how plausible this is in practice, so would be interested to know your thoughts on this, or if it's something you've already tried.
 

Dark111

SF Supporter
#20
Thank you for starting this conversation, I think it's incredibly important. I like the initial distinction made, "guilt" is about what we did, "shame" is about who we are. Shaming has certainly been a weapon used for social control (perhaps originally for social cohesion, but as we've become a more punishment-based society I think that's changed).

We can't control all of the external messages that we get, but we can work on ourselves and be willing to acknowledge wrong-doing or harmful acts without believing that it makes us something less as people. I know it's been mentioned here already and I agree with the idea that very often we don't even allow for accountability - for people to try to make up for what they did, to show change.

Just my thoughts :)
Good to hear your thoughts, WolfGoddess, thanks.

Regarding your point on external messages, I'm reminded of the meme: "You're not responsible for the programming you receive in childhood. But as an adult you're 100% responsible for fixing it". So yeah, I think people should be given the chance to show their capacity for change.
 

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