The Exponential Potential of Shame.


Shame, is a topic almost no one wants to speak about – they are simply too ashamed. First, we are ashamed of something.  Then we feel shame for being ashamed.  It is the exponential factor of this most wretched of emotions.  It is an isolating and miserable experience. 

The distinction between shame and guilt is this:  We feel guilty for things we have done; We feel shame for what we are.  Shame is pervasive and all encompassing.  It demoralizes and humiliates us to a barely breathing raw pulp. Shame is merciless as it tears at the very fabric of our being.  Shame is a place we dwell and pray that no one ever notices us again.  Shame results in a desire to be and stay invisible, unnoticed and unworthy of being noticed.

Have you ever fallen down?  Has it caused you so much shame that every decision you make subsequent to the fall is shame-based and thus contaminated?  Have you felt the G forces that suck you into a vortex of debilitating, life-ruining, downward-spiraling shame?  Each layer of the spiral seems to etch deeply into your soul creating what feels like permanent threads of hopelessness.  Shame sucks.

We all experience shame, but most of the time we are too ashamed to admit that we are ashamed.   Worse yet, the shame of being ashamed is a double whammy.  Thus, we encounter the exponential potential of shame that makes it toxic to human beings.

Many people feel no shame; others feel shame for those people.  It is an odd thing that when we feel ashamed we often turn to blaming someone or something else.  It relieves us of the burden of shame by projecting it onto others. They are two sides of the same coin – shame and blame.

If we are blaming, we are trying to shift our shame.  I call it “shame shifting.” We relieve ourselves of a highly negative emotion by denying and disassociating it from ourselves and by placing it on someone else.  When we blame others, our finger of blame points outward; four fingers of shame point back at us.

Highly sensitive people are the most vulnerable to this shift.  Someone does them wrong and then energetically shifts the shame on to them through blame.  It is easy to do, HSPs are empaths and, by definition, are emotional sponges.  They often carry the burden of others people’s shame and guilt along with their own.  They are emotional pack mules. 

I have gotten lost and I am ashamed of it.  I tried to pivot my career and became lost in a whirlwind of fears that arise when you step out on your own.  A tempest of survival fears – the very basic, hard-wired fears of the human organism.  I stood on the diving board too long, made too many excuses, and chased too many shiny balls because I was afraid.   I knew what I wanted, but wondered if I might be wrong. if I might not be good enough.  Such is the power of shame; it cripples self-trust and induces self-doubt, which in turn reinforces shame.   In short, things did not go as planned, but went, as I feared – funny how that works.  At least I have learned a lot.

Shame researchers Jane Middleton-Moz and Brene Brown have both delved into the subject of shame deeply.  If you would like to read more about shame, please check out there great work on the subject. 

What is your experience with shame?  Where does it cause you the most harm?  There is an antidote. 

To discuss shame without shame, simply reply here.



The Invisible Fence.

After today, I am going to break from discussing shame – it is a very large topic and one we will revisit many times. The reason that I feel we must keep chipping away at shame is that shame is “A Master of Disguise”. Shame has the ability to create limits that are actually lies as it covers its own stealthy tracks. More importantly, Shame like fear, anxiety and other affiliated emotions are self-sealing. That is that they engage in behavior that reinforces and seals the belief inside where it grows unchallenged. It seems that even our feelings like power and will run rampant when we do not challenge them. Logic is often used by such feelings to justify keeping them in place. “I would feel good about myself if only ______.”

Shame, fear and anxiety are deceptive to us at times. They are protective in nature, but can grow to be more punishing than the original intention – they take on a life of their own and begin limiting our behavior creating an invisible fence in our minds. Much like those cruel shock collars, shame, fear and anxiety take on the same methodology – when we get too close to an imagined boundary, we get zapped! Some people suffer shame attacks, others anxiety attacks and still others over-reactive fear responses that are grossly out of proportion to the stimulus.

Why do I write about these emotions and limits? Because like all humans, I have had my share of afflictions and I believe that we must use the latest knowledge and tools to hack out way out of the limits that impose smallness and limited lives upon us. Each and everyone of us has a right to be here and to grow in the direction we choose. To do that requires removing a lot of invisible fences.

Much of the time you will not see your invisible fence for what it is, you will need help. That help can come in the form of a friend, a support group, a great coach, a good therapist. The point is you must know it is there in order to challenge and remove it. Sometimes, you will just have to jump the fence take the shock and realize it did not kill you, then do it over and over again – a process of systematic desensitization.

Shame – The Invisible Monster

What do guilt and shame have to do with each other and how might they be affecting your life?
According the shame researchers, guilt is what you feel when you do something bad and shame is what you feel when you are something bad.

Brene Brown, PhD, LMSW and author of I Thought It Was Me (But it Isn’t) speaks of shame as a silent epidemic. Shame is a deep topic with significant personal and social impacts. It is also largely a taboo topic. I will begin exploring shame in this pos, however, because shame is both a taboo topic and a silent epidemic, I will continue to develop the topic in sequential posts.

Three of the foremost experts on the subject of shame are Jane Middleton-Moz, John Bradshaw and more recently, Brené Brown. In her book, “Shame and Guilt – Masters of Disguise”, Jane Middleton-Moz explains the dynamics of shame for individuals and the far reaching implications of those dynamics. John Bradshaw author of two insightful books on shame – “Healing the Shame that Binds You” and “Homecoming” explores the dynamics facing adult children of alcoholics and shame-based families. Brown in her books on the subject signals a clarion call for recognizing the silent epidemic of shame in society and its pervasive destructiveness.

How does shame affect a life? Here is how one woman put it:

“For years I have called it fear, rage, anxiety, depression, struggling with myself, lack of focus, lack of direction. I called it everything but what it was, because I really did not know. In another sense, I did, but could not name it and I could not admit it. It masqueraded as ADD, impulsiveness, arrogance and anger. At times it appeared as passivity and shyness, other times it presented as a restless, relentless mind that zoomed around my internal universe like a mad comet hurtling through space.

It manifested as procrastination and being chronically late for things as well as never following through on anything I started or intended to do. It showed up as big talking and little doing, a persistent lack of commitment to anyone or anything – why risk failing when it seemed inevitable?

It appeared as high-sensitivity, which of course it was, an ever watchful nervous system patrolling. It was the promise of “someday” that never seemed to come and the fervent attempt to control an out of control world. I struggled with a desire for success and a relentless need to remain invisible and safe from the judgment of others who would surely judge me as I judged myself, fundamentally, hopelessly and fatally flawed – unlovable and worthless.

It was an internal struggle that was ripping me apart. For every successful step I took, I took two steps back to hide.”

This is the monster called shame and it is at the heart of nearly every self-destructive and addictive behavior there is.

Let me tell you why I believe you must understand what shame is and learn to speak it. You can only heal it by speaking of it and many therapists do not have a solid understanding of this subject. Some are actually blocked by their own shame and do not wish to bring up such a topic – I did say it was taboo. For you to heal from this, you will need to take charge like never before. This is easier once you understand what you are dealing with – this horrible, unspeakably dark feeling is shame.

I hope you find this helpful.