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Shame and Trauma

I recently watched a TED Talk by Dr. Brene Brown that talked about listening to Shame. I found the discussion to touch at the root of shame and vulnerability and how often we are afraid to feel vulnerable, equating vulnerability with weakness and rejecting these feelings within ourselves. What we don’t realize is how this very rejection of ourselves perpetuate the pervasive feelings/identify of shame and strengthens the voice within us that says – “I’m not good enough, I’m a bad person, I’m evil”—with the powerful belief that there is something intrinsically wrong with you. The relationship between shame and guilt are similar but different. Guilt is the feeling we get when we believe we have hurt someone or done something wrong (even when we really haven’t done anything wrong and wrongfully take responsibility of feelings we didn’t cause)…we feel remorse, sadness, and a sense of social obligation or morale to make amends or create a more positive vibration around us. However, Shame is a belief that is more than “something we caused or did was wrong” but that WE are what is wrong. Everything about us is wrong with the voice of Shame. We are inadequate, we are unworthy, we are less-than through the lens of Shame. The voice of Shame can be born of childhood messages we received when making mistakes from caregivers, adults, or peers, as well as, institutions that are oppressive.

When we are sent the messages, whether implicit or explicit, that we are not worthy or good enough and that we are the malfunction–these messages and roles are internalized as are the people themselves that have uttered them, and eventually all become our messages toward ourselves. We begin to believe the voice of Shame and begin to ascribe to it. I find that beneath struggles with addiction, depression, anxiety, low self esteem, and trauma–you will find immense Shame…and the more we engage with self deprecating or self defeating behaviors–the more we strengthen the vicious cycle of shame, and at times, self loathing. Shame is just that part present in all of us that is really hard to want to understand because it brings up so much fear related to the very past that inducted us into the hall of Shame, especially when this past is full of relational trauma, sexual trauma, childhood abuse, and vicarious trauma.

So many questions around Shame—like where does it sit in your body? What color is Shame? How does Shame smell? When did you first feel Shame? What did it feel like and what did/does it say about you?

My hard work with clients encompasses eventually exploring Shame (when my client is ready) so that we may cultivate self compassion and empathy and raise the voice of self acceptance and healing from trauma.

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