Issue 9 of What Secure People Know
We have established that in order to become more self-compassionate, it is important to know your emotions and the purposes they serve. Without this awareness, it is hard to deal with your own feelings and know how to act. The most important emotion in this regard is shame, which is why we will spend an entire lesson on this unpleasant but essential feeling.
Shame can be defined as “feeling like you are a person you don’t want to be.”
At its core, shame consists of a fear of being rejected by a group that you perceive yourself to be a part of. It is an emotion that causes a lot of pain and suffering.
When you feel shame about something you have said or done, you are likely to want to withdraw or hide from others, “sink through the floor,” or perhaps defend yourself aggressively. But as painful as it may be, shame serves a purpose for us, like all basic emotions.
Without shame, it would be hard for people to live together. The feeling of shame is a way for us, as social animals, to be guided toward a socially acceptable behavior. Community and being part of a group were of vital importance when we were nomads. It was extremely hard to physically survive, find food and shelter without being part of a group. The fear of rejection and exclusion has later been internalized into a shame reaction and an “inner critic”.
(Side note: when we internalize, a process where something that was initially an external event is transformed into something that is activated and takes place within an individual.)
In a secure person, shame is usually experienced only when it serves a function. The emotion guides you when you are about to do something that could hurt others or in some way endanger your status in a group.
However, a person who suffers from social anxiety or perfectionism tendencies may be held hostage by his or her feelings of shame.
Almost everything the person does is influenced by overly easily triggered shame. In some cases, the person with social anxiety can’t even ride a bus without being flooded with feelings of shame for their (imagined) abnormal behavior.
The next time you experience feelings of shame, try to note how that feels like and what you feel like doing. Perhaps you try to actively get rid of the feeling (e.g. by blaming someone or something else), avoid the feeling (e.g. by withdrawing) or deal with the feeling through passivity (doing nothing).