Shame is a very difficult, universal human emotion. We all feel it. And it’s normal to not like feeling it. So naturally we resist shame when it arises in our lives. The same way we close up over an open wound or the muscles around an injured part of the body tighten or clench.
Shame is different than guilt, where guilt says “I did something bad” shame says, “I am bad.” Nobody really likes to talk about shame, because the very nature of shame is to keep it secret. Brene Brown talks about the three conditions necessary to “grow” shame: Secrecy, Silence, and Judgement. Don’t talk about it, lock it in the vault, and judge yourself harshly for it.
But self compassion researchers, Chris Germer and Kristen Neff have found that despite shame being a challenge for most of us, that many paradoxes exist when we look a little closer. These include:
1. Shame feels blameworthy, but it is an innocent emotion. The need to be loved and belong is one of the strongest desires that human beings have. Shame makes us believe that some part or all of us is unloveable, that we are too flawed to be accepted by others. So shame actually comes from our innocent desire to belong, to be approved of, and to be accepted. If we can have compassion for our desire to belong, it can take us out of the self-blame story.
2. Shame makes us feel separate and alone, but it connects us to the rest of humanity. The majority of humans all across the world, no matter what their differences experience shame. Despite being something that makes us “feel” different, it actually indicates that we are “more alike” other humans than we are different.
3. Shame feels old and all-encompassing, but it is a temporary state- like all emotions- that reflects just a part or who we are. Emotions come and go. But because we resist shame and don’t like to feel it, it can feel like “why is this still here?! What’s wrong with me?” When really, shame will always be there, just like all the other emotions that come and go.
So next time you find yourself in shame, see if reflecting on any one of these paradoxes helps you to feel some compassion for your shame, or perhaps less alone and more connected to your humanity.