Shame works on a continuum from healthy to toxic. Shaming is used by all cultures to let people know the rules so they can fit in. Shaming feels intense because we must belong in order to survive. Children die if their bodies are not fed and protected. Human beings of all ages need emotional connection and nurturing in order to live and thrive.
Guilt: I have done something wrong and I want to correct the mistake. Shame: there is something wrong with me. Healthy shame is meant to correct a behavior, not make a person feel worthless. We need a corrective experience of connection to avoid sinking into a shame spiral. Shame beliefs or thoughts include I’m bad, disgusting, damaged goods. I’m a loser. I’m not fit to be part of the human family.
These beliefs are velcroed to energy in our body. Activation in our nervous system intensifies our experience and we may experience fear and anxiety. This can set off a cascade of negative thoughts and feelings.
The way it feels in the body includes a heaviness or pressure in the chest, nausea and not making eye contact. People often slump forward with their head down. When we feel shame, we want to hide, to disappear so we are not exposed, so people don’t discover how horrible we really are deep down.
Chronic or toxic shame underlies a lot of avoidance behavior like addiction. We numb out and go into hiding in many ways and this can last for decades. We lose trust in ourselves and others. We don’t feel safe. We don’t trust other people so we often find ourselves isolated and alone with our own shaming thoughts.
Shaming works on so many levels and this means we have many ways to heal shame. I know from my own direct experience that it is possible to heal and to stop shaming ourselves. Letting our body relax and breath become smooth and effortless releases contracted energy in our body. We can work directly with thoughts to interrupt the pattern and momentum. Kindness and compassion are always at the root of healing.