SHAME – Hide or seek?
HEALTHY SHAME It is normal for children to experience being shamed by significant others as part of a supportive relationship – shaming can help educate and motivate children towards socially acceptable conduct. Healthy shame inhibits illegal, immoral, and harmful behaviour; and means learning from our mistakes and our limitations. Shame is experienced as negative thinking and feeling about oneself ‘I am bad if I do this’ rather than guilt which is thinking and feeling bad for an action taken. When children learn healthy shame it is important that they are continued to be supported with an attentive and understanding relationship. UNHEALTHY SHAME If children experience shaming on a frequently, unreasonable, and inappropriate basis, and without an attentive and understanding relationship to support them, then this can lead to an unhealthy experiences of shame in the future. In these cases, we can learn that it is not okay to make mistakes, have limits, or be ourselves. We may learn that we have to be perfect and should be able to meet everyone elses needs. These impossible expectations can set us up to fail and perpetuate the shame. Once we are familiar with receiving shame externally, we can also learn to shame ourselves from within. This can lead to an ongoing experience of feeling useless, a failure, disconnected, flawed, not deserving, stupid, worthless, not adequate and not good enough. Unhealthy shame, is not really about who we are but rather about how we have experienced ourselves from others, and thus it becomes a learned belief about who we are. TOXIC SHAME Unhealthy shame can also be referred to as toxic shame, or being shame bound. In toxic shame we may withdraw, isolate ourselves and experience self hatred. Shame also binds to emotions, where we believe that it is not okay to feel or have emotions and so we may sometimes struggle to express happiness, sadness, anger, and sexual feelings without feeling bad. SHAME IN HIDING Shame can be referred to as one of the greatest pains to suffer; causing extreme physical discomfort, like a dark sinking feeling. It can also feel shameful to feel shame, and so shame spread and hide without being aware of what is happening. We can learn to mask and defend the shame with a false sense of ourselves, and sometimes an exaggerated sense of self importance. SHAME IN COUNSELLING Shame can often be triggered in counselling because understandably this can involve new learning processes and exploration of the unknown or things we don’t feel good about. When a safe and supportive relationship can be experienced in counselling, shame can be faced, confronted and transformed.