Shame is not easy to face. It is not quickly or easily diminished. It often takes years to even come to the awareness that what dwells beneath our constant frustration is the sense that we are not good enough, often because someone’s words or actions have been working to assure us of that our entire lives.
To conquer our shame, we must first improve our awareness of it. This takes courage. We will have to be willing to examine our thoughts, not hide them as our natural impulses have always led us.
How can we improve our awareness of shame?
1. Notice the messages our bodies gives us. Shame clues include:
- Looking down or away (avoiding eye contact)
- Sudden loss of energy
2. Listen carefully to our thoughts, especially automatic insults we give ourselves. (Negative self-talk.)
3. Pay attention to whether we isolate ourselves from others, or withdraw verbally or emotionally.
4. Observe whether perhaps we feel paralyzed (unable to approach or retreat from a situation because of overwhelming self-consciousness), perfectionistic, or especially critical of people around us.
5. Explore our spiritual connectedness or disconnectedness. How are we finding meaning in our lives? Do we have a strong sense of purpose and are we pursuing it?
Shame can be big or small. To be fully aware, we will need to notice both. The reversal of this habit must be challenged consistently.
To recognize when shame needs challenged, look for these common defenses against shame:
- Denial – if something causes us shame, we might refuse to acknowledge it exists.
- Rage- we might drive others away so they cannot see our deficits, especially if we believe they are out to get us.
- Perfectionism – we might stave off shame by striving for perfection in everything.
- Arrogance – we might see ourselves as better or others as worse (by being overly critical verbally or internally) to keep shame at bay.
- Exhibitionism – we might act, dress or speak with flamboyance of that which we’d rather hide to try to convince ourselves and others that it doesn’t bother us.
Making it Personal:
How do you protect yourself from shame?
- Start to observe your tendencies. Not because you will ever stop them completely, but because they help you understand what is triggering your shame.
The goal is not to fight off shame. The goal is to explore it. If we can come to accept and understand that shame is a part of the human condition, we need not fear it, hate it or fight it. Then, we can change it.
My next post will be about how we can change our shame. Until then, explore your awareness of and defenses against shame to start understanding how it affects you.