The Beginnings of Shame

Guilt – I’m sorry, I made a mistake.

Shame – I’m sorry, I am a mistake.

We experience comments during our childhood that can stick with us for the rest of our lives. Parents, peers, teachers or other elders say things like, ‘if you do that people will think your odd/stupid/weird’, ‘go and stand over there, I’m not going to talk to you’, ‘you are embarrassing me’, ‘why can’t you be like your brother/cousin/sister’, ‘you always do this, you’re naughty/stupid/annoying’

These are shaming comments, they make us feel inadequate, not good enough and humiliated. These experiences lead the grown-up child, the adults, to be full of feelings of guilt and shame. Adults who have difficulty believing in themselves often turn to negative coping strategies such as consuming excessive amounts of alcohol or controlled eating habits, addictions, and other forms of self-harm, resulting in the cycle of self-defeating, soul-destroying mental states. 

“Shame is the intense feeling that we are unworthy of love and belonging”  

Brené Brown

As a result of these external comments, you start to internalise beliefs about yourself. You start to believe things like ‘I am not good enough, I’m weird, there is something wrong with me, people don’t like me, I’m ugly, useless, stupid’. You cope with these thoughts and feelings by finding ways to cope such as punishing yourself (self-harm), blocking feeling out (drinking/drugs), making exaggerated risk assessments as you don’t feel capable (increased anxiety) and self-defeating thoughts which isolate you (depression). 

You learn ways to cope and the reasons behind your feelings become unclear. You no longer understand why you feel the way you do, but the feelings of shame haunt you. As time goes by, negative copying mechanisms take hold, numbing and burying your true amazing self and the mountain of shame piles up . People see you, but you don’t, and you can’t understand why people are kind to you or compliment you. 

You need to heal. You need to feel. You need to give that shameful baggage back. It’s not yours and it never was. Hand it back to those unassuming elders and peers – it may well have been their own insecurities and shame which they passed onto you. You are good enough, you are worthy and it’s time to find a healthy space to discover this. You may not feel worthy because you are so used to the voice inside telling you that you are not. I guarantee that buried underneath that crap, you will gradually discover yourself to be just as good as the next person. 

If we share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can’t survive”  

Brené Brown

I believe in you, even though I may not have met you yet. That is because most of us are all pretty decent, some of us don’t realise it and end up allowing these thoughts and beliefs to limit our existence. Is this you? If so, let us help to set you free. 

Surrounding yourself with a supportive, non-judgmental, and empathetic network can be one of the best coping strategies to becoming your shame-free, confident self! This could be in the shape of excellent friends, supportive family, a therapist like me, or a group like Free Spirits Recovery www.freespiritsrecovery.co.uk (if you are experiencing difficulty with alcohol). 

Alison Hollingshead, Counsellor and Psychotherapist specialising in self-belief, anxiety, and depression.

Published by alisonhollingshead

I am a BACP registered counsellor, psychotherapist and supervisor based in Stoke-on-Trent, Newcastle-under-Lyme, and online.

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