Last week, we looked at the impacts of our emotional state on our lives. The idea that how we feel can directly affect our day-to-day thoughts, behaviours, and experiences. And at the very bottom of the spectrum of emotional states sits shame. It’s the lowest of the low when it comes to negative feelings and is worth exploring in slightly more depth.
Shame is a self-conscious emotion that ties into our perception of ourselves and our self-worth. It feeds directly into feelings of powerlessness, worthlessness, lacking, and insecurity. When we’re shamed, we feel wrong, embarrassed, unworthy, or like we’re broken in some way.
And, much like everything else, it all stems from childhood.
Shame is something we learn at a very young age. When we’re younger, our sense of self develops according to how others perceive us. We quickly learn what’s acceptable or unacceptable. What’s praised or criticised. What’s considered normal or abnormal.
And if we experience something that leaves us feeling wrong, unacceptable, or abnormal, it completely skews our sense of self-worth. We start questioning our values, behaviours, and feel a sense of shame that sticks with us through later life.
There are plenty of examples of how you might experience shame as a child. Such as being called a teacher’s pet for raising your hand too much in school. Or being made fun of by your friends for wearing a certain outfit, or for being wrongly disciplined at home.
The act of being shamed is so derailing for us as children that it completely knocks us off kilter. It puts us to the lowest vibrational level, leaving us feeling worthless, and is stored in the brain in a traumatic way. As a result, we will always feel uncomfortable when made to confront any shame we’ve previously experienced.
Because of how unpleasant shame is, we do everything in our power to avoid any future situation that could lead to the same result. We tie ourselves in knots to not go back to that place, bending over backwards to avoid it at all costs.
We take the memory of feeling shamed in childhood, project it into the future, remembering how uncomfortable and awful it was, and then proceed to take actions to avoid it.
Shame creates a learnt experience. We don’t like to feel wrong. And, as a result, shame fragments how we show up in the world. We’re cautious, calculated, and hypervigilant about avoiding it. We stop doing certain things, might withdraw into ourselves in certain situations, and can stop living authentically in order to remain comfortable and safe.
Shame and perfectionism
The closer our relationship to shame, the closer our relationship to perfectionism. The two come together in inexplicable ways. The more you have known shame, the higher likelihood you are a perfectionist.
Because shame is so awful for us to experience, being perfect becomes a way of avoiding any risk of the same happening again. We go above and beyond to avoid any possibility of being wrong, taking things in the opposite direction entirely and striving for perfection.
Shame can be such a debilitating, harmful, and uncomfortable emotion to experience. But it’s also something many of us can relate to. And inflicting shame on others – whether intentionally or not – is a power we all have within us. And it’s surprising to recognise just how easy it is to be careless with our words and accidentally inflict shame onto someone else. To make someone else wrong and feel like they’re not good enough.
By taking the time to understand shame in greater depth, exploring how it manifests itself in your own life, you can better approach your own behaviour and emotional state. And you can also become more wary of how you might be accidentally shaming others.
I work alongside my clients to uncover the past experiences, emotions, and behaviours that have brought them to where they are today. And, from here, we work together to break down the barriers that hold them back, achieving greater fulfillment, success, and happiness across their whole lives. Get in touch with me here if you’d like to schedule a conversation.