The first task to building shame resilience is becoming aware, as best as you can, of the feelings of shame that you do have. Its harder than it sounds because shame mostly works at an unconscious level. You have to become a bit of a mind detective and work backwards.
Infancy is a minefield of shame stimuli. Your impressionable mind is a sponge for meaning – and invents meanings for things all the time, even if it means that you’re to blame for something that’s not your fault. Which is often convenient for the shame-ridden adults.
Before you even get a chance to know who you are, you’ve been set up with a lot of “don’t be this – don’t do that” shame triggers. “Confident people are arrogant!” “Don’t talk!” “Relaxing is laziness!” Thanks again, childhood programming! I’ll share some examples of common shame-zoned traits.
That feeling where it feels like everything is scratching away at you, life becomes a constant firefight, and you long to just “unwind”. What would that even take, these days? The idea seems ever-elusive, because you’re overwhelmed.
Well, life is just ram-packed with shame-stimuli. As well as figuring out who you are and what you really want to do with your life, you have to juggle the demands of a social life, relationships, housing, maintenance, a career, hobbies, finances, family, travel, appearances and health. There’s plenty to remind you that you’re not quite where you want to be, and various disconnections could always be around the corner.
I do my fair share of criticising others. Its almost too easy, there’s no shortage of morons about. It feels good, often even fun, and I know people whose whole personalities revolve around being critical. But its all because of feelings of shame, and I’ll prove why.
Shame triggers are the moments that cause you to feel shame – which might manifest as anger, fear, nerves, or just feeling rubbish about yourself. Here are some examples to get you going:
Isn’t defensiveness one of the most frustrating traits to deal with? When you know you’re right – but despite making sound, reasonable, logical and compelling arguments, you get a bunch of irrational, angry nonsense back instead! Once you understand where it comes from, you might look at it in a different way. See how many of these traits you can relate to.
You’re a schmuck unless you drive a car like this. You won’t be attractive to the right partner, unless you spray this scent on yourself. People will do anything to avoid feeling shame. Which is why advertisers love to use the fear of shame as a motivator. This is why we’re bombarded daily by advertising telling us how imperfect we are.
Shame is great at protecting you from situations which threaten to expose those murky scary feelings. Being late for appointments, not making eye contact with people, not wanting to go to social events, losing your ability to “be yourself” when around new people. It genuinely terrifies me how powerful, and life-crippling this effect is!