Shame identities are slightly different to shame triggers. They’re the traits you’ve been taught in childhood to associate with shame, that you can’t help but wander into – personality traits, or things like success, wealth or beauty.
This relates to the article in the “Causes of Shame” section called “Shame Identities” (opens in a new tab). Its best to read that first to refresh yourself.
Shame triggers are exogenous – they come from outside of you and can be anything which triggers a feeling of shame – which includes things like
– seeing a happy couple with a child in a park (feelings of inadequacy of not having a happy relationship or family).
– a presenter saying “I’m going to pick someone at random…” triggering that shame of not being good enough, of being able to make a mistake and get embarrassed.
– someone criticizing you.
– telling something vulnerable to someone, to have them say “I wouldn’t have done that, I’d have…” and prove themselves instead of offer empathy.
Basically, anything that conjures a feeling of shame inside.
Shame zones are endogenous – they are triggers which come from inside of you. Certain traits or urges within yourself, that you have learned to associate with feelings with shame.
As with all shame, it comes about through the distorted imagination of what people might think.
By figuring out how you want people to see you, and how you don’t want them to perceive you, you might realize exactly where your shame zones are.
To do this, complete this exercise. I know it sounds silly but it really does help to write these out on paper. I know it feels like that’s more difficult, but it will also be more meaningful, so you might as well make the most of the opportunity. Be as honest as you can be, and take your time to dive down into your self-awareness.
“I want to be seen as _____________, _____________, _____________,_____________ and _____________.
I don’t want to people to think of me as _____________, _____________, _____________, _____________ or _____________.”
You could repeat this exercise for various areas of your life – life success, relationships, health (mental and physical), skills, performance and socially.
When you’ve done it, have a look at the things you’ve written for how you don’t want people to think of you as. You might find these are the things that you feel more likely to notice, and possibly criticize, in others. As you become more aware of these shame zones, you might find that you have a better understanding of where the negative energy comes from, and notice it subsides until you’ve forgotten when you last expressed it.
What do these perceptions mean to you?
Where did they come from – who taught you to see it that way, and when?
If you could re-teach yourself something about those perceptions, what would it be?
If someone thought of you in the ways you don’t want to be thought of as, what other good qualities about you would they miss?
I’ll share my story of doing this exercise for a specific life-area.
“I want to be seen as efficient, speedy, sharp and helpful. I don’t want to be thought of as uncaring, unprofessional, lazy or unmotivated”.
I think I probably learned this from my mother, who when I was young was always busy and tending to problems. The general atmosphere was one of frenetic busying around, where relaxing or not tending to things was seen as “not the done thing”. Whilst it keeps me fairly organised, its also led to the fear of letting people down – which would mean I’m not good enough. The effects of this are that I check my email way too often, so I can reply to problems with my business as soon as possible. I feel like I need to be available all the time, which prevents me from being able to go for an ideas-walk, relax, or take proper time out. The sacrifice I make to myself, for the tiny bit of “oh, that’s impressive” I might give to someone else, is ridiiiiicuuuuloooous!
When I look at this closely by doing this exercise, I realize that these things really don’t mean what they were thought to mean. Becoming more aware of those shame-identities, allows me to erode them – I can take time out, without feeling shame for being unprofessional.
Share your story
If you feel daring enough, use the space below to do the exercise. Share your shame-identities anonymously if you like. Others might relate to your story, and offer discussion, and you might find it strangely liberating.