The Gift of Shame: A Positive Look at an Emotion with a Bad Reputation

By Susan Ball, Abuse Recovery Mentor.

What is Shame?

Shame is often viewed as a corrosive emotion, a feeling that stings and stains, one that many of us wish we could avoid. But what if we’re looking at it wrong? What if shame, in some circumstances, can be a positive experience, and even a path to personal growth and understanding?

Before we delve into how shame can be a gift, let’s define what shame is. Psychologists describe shame as a self-conscious emotion that stems from a negative evaluation of oneself. Unlike guilt, which is typically linked to a specific event or behaviour, shame is often linked to an individual’s sense of self.

Implanted Beliefs and Shame:

Our experiences of shame are often influenced by deep-seated beliefs about ourselves and the world. These beliefs can be ingrained in us from an early age, through experiences with our families, culture, religion, or school. Some of these beliefs may include:

Perfectionism: A belief that we should always meet exceedingly high standards, that making mistakes or failing is unacceptable. This belief can lead to deep feelings of shame when we inevitably fail to meet these unrealistic expectations.

Conditional Worth: A belief that our value as people is conditional on our achievements, behaviour, or the approval of others. When we perceive ourselves as falling short in these areas, we may experience shame.

Inherent Flaws: A belief that we are fundamentally flawed or unworthy. This belief can generate feelings of shame that are pervasive and persistent, extending beyond specific events or behaviours.

Fear of Rejection: A belief that rejection or criticism from others is unbearable. This belief can lead to intense feelings of shame when we perceive rejection or criticism, even in minor or ambiguous situations.

These beliefs can reinforce a cycle of shame, as we constantly judge ourselves and fall short of our own harsh standards. But by recognizing these beliefs, we can start to challenge them and break this cycle.

Transforming Shame into a Positive Force:

Shame doesn’t need to be a destructive emotion.  In fact, it can act as a catalyst for profound personal growth. Here are four ways to move through shame and turn it into a positive experience:

Self-Compassion: Instead of harshly judging ourselves when we make mistakes, we can practice self-compassion. This involves recognizing that everyone makes mistakes and experiences failure, and that these experiences don’t define our worth. By responding to our mistakes with understanding and kindness, rather than shame, we can learn and grow from them. 

A kinder way of thinking is to reframe “I am Incompetent” to “I’m actually pretty capable in a lot of areas and I’m still learning”. 

Mindfulness: Practicing mindfulness can help us recognize and challenge the negative self-talk that often accompanies shame. Mindfulness involves paying attention to our thoughts, feelings, and sensations in the present moment, without judgment. By practicing mindfulness, we can notice when we’re falling into patterns of shaming self-talk and choose to respond differently.

Negative self-talk is often fueled by pessimism, thinking “I’ll never improve”, “things will never get better” can cause depression, anxiety, and staying stuck. Once you’re aware, you can begin changing the tone to being hopeful and upbeat – “I’m learning and healing as I go. One step at a time”.

Reframing Shame: Instead of viewing shame as a sign of our inadequacy, we can view it as a signal that we have violated our own values or standards. This reframing allows us to use shame as a guide to understanding what matters most to us and to making changes that align with our values. Reframe “I’m worthless or useless” to “I’m worth the time to heal and grow” or “I have worth as a person just like everyone else”.

Connection with Others: Shame often leads us to isolate ourselves from others, but connection can be a powerful antidote to shame. By sharing our feelings of shame with trusted friends or family, we can receive empathy and understanding, which can help us to see our experiences in a more realistic and compassionate light.

The Gift in Shame:

Shame is an emotion that often gets a bad rap. It’s associated with pain, self-doubt, and low self-esteem. But when we dig a little deeper, we find that shame, when understood and approached with compassion, can offer us valuable insights into our selves and our values. Shame provides an opportunity to understand what triggers our shame. We get the privilege of examining our implanted beliefs that reinforce our shame and ultimately, decide to discard the beliefs that are untrue and unhelpful and develop new healthy beliefs more accurately reflect who we are as an individual. 

The process leads to a stronger sense of self and a clearer understanding and knowledge of who you are at your core.  Digging deep into shame and embracing the emotion, will prompt you to make meaningful changes in your life. Perhaps it’s time we start seeing shame not as a scourge, but as a gift.

By Susan Ball. Rediscover your strength, reclaim your joy, and embrace a future filled with healing and restoration. Join me in Italy, where renewal begins. https://www.recoveryafterabuse.ca/avanti-womens-retreat

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