A Coaching Power Tool created by Pauline Valvo
(Relationship Coaching, UNITED STATES)
Shame is a form of self-hatred, and actions taken in reaction to shame are not free and joyful acts. Even if our intention is to behave with more kindness and sensitivity, if people sense shame or guilt behind our actions, they are less likely to appreciate what we do than if we are motivated purely by the human desire to contribute to life.
Few scholars have researched shame and there is still a lot to learn about it. Yet shame is a basic, universal human experience, and it is one of the dominant emotions experienced by mental health clients. People experience shame every day, and our culture sends continuous shaming messages. For example, we accuse mothers of working too much or too little, we accuse women of not looking good enough or of looking too sexy, and we accuse men of being weak or not providing well enough for their families. Sometimes shame is used to teach people—to reinforce or control behavior. Shaming people makes them feel rejected, diminished, and not good enough.
Shame is the intensely diminishing feeling of not being good enough, of not being worthy.
Often people confuse shame, guilt, embarrassment, and humiliation, but the four are different.
Shame versus Guilt
Shame is when you think, “I am bad” or “I am a bad person for having that thought.” Guilt is when you think, “I did something bad or that is a bad thought.” There is quite a difference between “I am a mistake” (shame) and “I made a mistake” (guilt). Guilt is a healthy emotion and allows us to compare something we’ve done (or failed to do) against an ideal we wish to achieve. In this way, guilt is helpful – it helps us change. In contrast, shame is more likely to be the source of destructive behavior. It destroys the piece of us that believes that we can change. You can’t shame someone into being better.
Shame versus Humiliation
When we feel shame, we tend to feel we deserve our shame. Humiliation is something we feel we don’t deserve. If we react to something by saying we don’t deserve it, then we are feeling humiliation. Shame is more dangerous than humiliation.
Shame versus Embarrassment
When we feel shame, we feel alone. When we feel embarrassment, it is fleeting and often funny. When we do something embarrassing, we know we’re not the only one who’s done it.
Shame is a primitive universal human experience. It has physical symptoms, which are different for each person. These symptoms might include feeling nauseous, flushing, your heart racing, time slowing down, getting shaky, or looking down or away. It’s important to learn to recognize your body’s reaction to shame, so that you can more quickly identify shame and consciously and effectively move through the shame attack.
There are no universal shame triggers. What causes shame in a person is very individualized. However, through her research Dr. Brown (2010) found twelve common categories of shame triggers:
- Appearance and body image
- Money and work
- Mental and physical health, including addiction
- Speaking out
- Surviving trauma
- Being stereotyped and labeled
Everyone experiences shame, and some people are able to move through it in a healthy manner, and find it doesn’t affect them negatively, while other people experience excessive shame, get stuck in that feeling of being not worthy, and it debilitates them.
These people are likely to experience some of the following:
- Fear of vulnerability
- Fear of intimacy and a tendency to avoid committed relationships
- Feelings of defensiveness
- Tendency to blame others
- Feelings of not belonging
- Feeling defective