As we have seen from other articles I have published on this site, those who suffer severe trauma in early life may go on to experience irrational, deep-seated feelings of shame in adulthood, particularly if they have developed conditions highly likely to be linked to their adverse childhood experiences such as clinical depression or borderline personality disorder (BPD).
Feelings of shame can be excruciatingly painful; at their worst, they can cause us to completely isolate ourselves so that we avoid contact with others to the extent that we may become virtual recluses, perhaps only daring to venture out of our house or flat when absolutely necessary. Indeed, the word ‘shame‘ derives from the Indian word ‘sham‘ which means ‘to hide.’
What Is Shame?
When we feel ashamed we feel very negatively about ourselves and believe we are, to put it simply, a deeply bad person. We also tend to assume that others are judging us in a similarly disparaging manner. The sensation of shame also frequently involves feelings of inadequacy, inferiority, incompetence, self-disgust, self-hatred, anxiety, anger, bodily tension, nausea and sweating/feeling too hot.
Effects On Relationships :
Because of our own jaundiced and self-lacerating view of ourselves, we assume others will feel the same way about us (or soon will do once they discover’ what a ‘horrible and disgusting’ person we are). We therefore avoid trying to form close relationships, believing such efforts to be futile given that we will ‘inevitably be rejected’ once the ‘real’ us is ‘discovered.’
Other Possible Effects Of Shame :
We may also try to psychologically defend ourselves from deep rooted feelings of shame. For example :
– we may become preoccupied with managing a superficial image of ourselves when interacting with others which we desperately hope will keep ‘our true badness‘ concealed; this can lead to the creation of a ‘false self’ which precludes any chance of authentic or meaningful interaction with others (in other words, we ‘become afraid to be who we are’).
– perfectionism / ‘workaholism’ (in a desperate attempt to compensate for the profound inner feelings of inadequacy and inferiority that may accompany a pervasive sense of shame).’Workaholism’ and perfectionism are both extremely precarious ways of maintaining some semblance of self-respect and self-esteem as we tend to continually set ourselves targets which, inevitably, we sometimes fail to achieve. We are then highly vulnerable to suffering a catastrophic collapse in our sense of self-worth as it has not been built upon strong enough, nor sustainable, foundations.
Differentiating Between Three Types Of Shame :
We can differentiate between three specific types of shame. These are :
1) INTERNAL SHAME
2) EXTERNAL SHAME
3) REFLECTED SHAME
I define these three types of shame below :
Internal Shame : this is a sense of shame we feel about ourselves
External Shame : this is when we perceive that others have a very low view of us which makes us feel ashamed
Reflected Shame : this is when we feel shame vicariously due to how someone else connected yo us has behaved, such as a family member or a member of a group with which we identify.
Often, a sense of internal shame and external shame co-exist within the same person. However, in the case of shame related to childhood trauma, we may (irrationally) feel a strong sense of internal shame even though we can accept that others are not negatively evaluating us as a result of what happened to us (i.e. there is an absence of external shame).
A POSSIBLE SOLUTION : COMPASSION FOCUSED THERAPY :
There is evidence to suggest that COMPASSION FOCUSED THERAPY may be of particular benefit to those suffering from distress connected to the experience of shame.
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE)