Do you get the feeling sometimes that there is something WRONG with you… that you’re somehow “bad” and don’t deserve what other people get? If so…
It’s a SHAME.
I remember in elementary school how confident and bold I was. I loved learning new facts, figures, names, and places. I was outspoken. I figured that if someone was wrong about a fact, they would want to know that, right?
Not The Coronel. My sixth grade teacher. Retired military. And he did NOT like my attitude. To be a “good boy” you had to defer to his authority… and you certainly never challenged his assertions. So when I spoke out without permission… from the back of the class where I had already been relegated for insubordination… that he had spelled Euphrates wrong… he SHAMED me.
And that was a shame. Sent to the principal’s office. Mom contacted. Kids laughing at me, or shrinking under their desks to make sure they didn’t get shamed for supporting me… I got The Message. I was now a stupid bad boy who SHOULD have known better.
Can you feel how confused I was? I thought school was a place of learning! When *I* misspelled a word, I got a red circle around it. When he misspelled one of the most important rivers in civilization, *I* got punished. I was mad! I was scared. I felt all mixed up… and ashamed for not knowing what was Right anymore.
Did anything like that ever happen to you?
The whole situation deeply affected me. Even though in the end my Mom and the principal tried to keep me from overreacting in my shame, it was a trauma for me that resulted in going from liking my teacher to not trusting him at all. My brain made other associations, too, which affected me for many years: don’t trust military men, or people in positions of power. Don’t correct others even if they are teaching something incorrect. Hide your smarts.
It’s a shame that SHAME affects us so profoundly… yet is used so carelessly.
Shame sticks with us in some ways more than actual physical abuse. If I poke Jenny in the eye and steal her candy, and I get a whipping for it, well… there’s at least a connection between being a hurtful little thief and that being a punishable offense. There are other ways to teach that lesson than a whipping, but I’ve never had to tap with someone over “fair” punishment that was tied to an offense against understandable rules.
Shame, on the other hand, seeks to trigger us into a desperate NEED to get back into good graces, to be accepted back into the tribe. We get ostracized, criticized, and told we are BAD. That we no longer DESERVE food, comfort, or acceptance. This is so triggering of inner panic and terror that nothing else is as important as doing whatever it takes to go from being BAD to being GOOD again.
This tension is at the core of most chronic anxiety. This dynamic sets up such disharmony within us that it shows up as disease decades later. It underlies distrust in others… and in ourselves. It slops over into other aspects of our identity… we even become ashamed of being smart, pretty, confident, ambitious, skilled. Dreamers stop dreaming and huggers stop touching.
Alas, it gets worse. When someone feels shame, they get more of it heaped on them. It’s the sickest part of the law of attraction. A person who is walking “in shame” is assumed by our primitive tribal brain to be someone actually unacceptable! And thus gets treated unacceptably… over and over and over again.
It truly is a shame.
Is there a way to shift this? Yes. By changing our emotions from the vibration of shame to the vibration of acceptance. Shame keeps us stuck—in old patterns, old beliefs, old suffering. Acceptance frees our energy to move forward, to grow, to express ourselves.
The feeling of Acceptance comes in two parts. Unless you have both parts, you won’t feel good deeply and completely.
The first part is self-acceptance, where you connect with your past, your traumas, the rejections you had inflicted on you and that you inflicted on yourself… and come to a place of peace and self-compassion and forgiveness.
The second part is… group acceptance. And this is honestly thornier. Shame tries to force us to modify who we are in order to be accepted once again. Yet, a part of us knows when we’re faking it or morphing ourselves just to fit in. I want to be free to be myself, and that means I need to be selective and mindful about who I try to “fit in” with.
Indeed, my group model is not really about “fitting in” at all. It’s about celebrating with others who are offering safety and respect, encouragement and support… who love and accept the artist, the singer, the writer, the inventor, and the dancer even if the “style” isn’t exactly to our liking. (I may not adore your painting… I do so love and appreciate that you painted it!)
It’s about making room for everyone to experience the joy of self-expression. We open the “tribe” to all those who are expressing themselves in ways that are authentic, not just those whose specific works we judge to be personally pleasing to us.
Does that make sense? It’s about shifting from judgment as a way to control each other towards Acceptance as a way to free us all.
Karate Chop: Even though I feel so much shame, I deep and completely accept myself.
Even though I feel shame, that’s a shame… and I am open to accepting myself anyway.
Even though I was shown I was bad, unworthy, and unacceptable, I am on a journey to deeply and completely love and accept myself NOW.
Top of the Head: Yes, I feel shame.
Eyebrow: And that’s a shame.
Side of the Eye: It stops me…
Under the Eye: From being truly me.
Under the Nose: It stops me…
Chin: From feeling truly free.
Collarbone: I makes me anxious…
Under the Arm: And steals my clarity.
Top of the Head: Now, I’m making some shifts.
Eyebrow: What if I was never a bad kid? I was just treated shamefully.
Side of the Eye: What if I’m acceptable.. right now?
Under the Eye: It’s a shame to use shame.
Under the Nose: I’m tired of feeling so embarrassed.
Chin: I’m done with shame as a weapon.
Collarbone: I’m releasing the shame now.
Under the Arm: I’m starting to feel more acceptable.
Top of the Head: They don’t understand me.
Eyebrow: And there’s no shame in that.
Side of the Eye: They don’t accept me.
Under the Eye: And there’s no shame in that either!
Under the Nose: I have decided to understand me.
Chin: I’m choosing to love and forgive myself.
Collarbone: I’m letting go of the pressure to please them.
Under the Arm: I’m embracing myself…
Top of the Head: I open myself to accepting that I am a Acceptably Good and Forgivable Person.
Take a deep breath.
Clearing shame is core to my heart’s mission. It’s a true delight to celebrate as members of our circle laugh and play, dance and sing, write and paint, build businesses, and co-create amazing love free of the shame that kept them boxed in for so long. If this is an area where you want relief, too, please email Cathy and me at firstname.lastname@example.org. We have proven ideas that can help.
With love and acceptance,
P.S. I’ve written more about shame and embarrassment here: https://www.thrivingnow.com/i-feel-so-embarrassed-by/