Learn your Shame Triggers (the causes)

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:

Someone disrepecting me on the road (pulling out at a junction, roundabout). I’ve learned to be laid back about such things now, having recognised them as triggers I can do something about it. But it used to get to me no end!

Hearing about people involved in really cool jobs – whether actors or creative types, or people high up in interesting businesses. It will trigger feelings of inadequacy in me, and set up filters where I forget about my strengths and options, and focus on the things that are lacking.

Seeing happy couples with children – because I haven’t had children yet, I feel a massive pang of shame for not having “got all that sorted” by now. I feel like I’m not good enough, for not being a family man.

Being around new people – this triggers a fear in me of not being accepted or approved of. ┬áIt leads to a tendency for me to “people please”, becoming an overly polite version of myself that seeks to agree, appear vulnerable and non-threatening, and say ridiculous cliches that I would never use with friends. I can absolutely spot this same behaviour in others, and it makes me feel nervous for them. I much prefer it when people are just themselves, because then you know where you stand. When someone is being overly polite, you can imagine them being dishonest for the sake of approval, or being someone else entirely after you’ve left. Since building shame resilience, I tend to be a bit more laid back and more of myself now. I find that my mind has slowed down, allowing me to think before responding, so I’m not at the mercy of those awful automatic “polite” responses that I later feel stupid about. The worse thing about that shame-based politeness is that when someone does or says something offensive or frustrating – its easy to just gloss over it for the sake of being polite. Later, this turns to frustration, and thoughts of “I wish I’d said…”. So I’m glad I’m in the process of taking care of this shame trigger, because I hate those little moments of regret where politeness overtakes assertiveness.

Being with another shame-ridden person who doesn’t listen, empathise, or ask questions – this is a very common thing, shame has a knack of creating more shame. Its like a social virus. Not only do moments of shame-based defensiveness spiral into vicious circles of ever-increasing shame levels, but simple social situations can do the same on an undercurrent level. I recently befriended this guy through work who I can recognise a lot of shame effects in. He tends to be a bit withdrawn, paranoid of not being accepted (gets a bit funny if I have to turn down an invite), and always talks non-stop about himself like trying to prove something. When I’m with him, I politely listen and try to be supportive as I can. I get caught in a double bind of shame triggers. If I volunteer any information about myself, then he’ll just relate it back to him, and make me feel like my story is pointless and worthless. If I don’t volunteer anything, then I do start to feel completely invisible, like my life is being undermined and ignored. I come away from those meetings feeling flat, pointless and like I have nothing to really offer people. Its a stark contrast to having a good, wholesome, two-way chat with a good friend that leaves me feeling great.

Using introspection

Finding shame triggers can be difficult when you’re just thinking about it. It helps to remember times when you’ve felt shame, then work backwards.

What was the initial cause, the moment where you stopped feeling normal, and started feeling a lesser version of yourself?

Another aspect that makes this difficult, is that memories of shame-feelings are often quickly repressed and pushed out of awareness. I’ve seen many moments where someone genuinely couldn’t remember getting angry about something, or absolutely deny being nervous about something when it was perfectly clear that they were.

The mind does its best to protect you from these moments. It doesn’t want you to feel those feelings of fear and threat that it uses a lot of energy for to keep pushed deep down in the psyche.

Being more mindful in moments of shame

A more effective method to learn your shame triggers is to become more mindful of them when you feel those murky feelings. If you’ve already worked on finding out how you specifically feel shame, then you should hopefully be more mindful of the moments when they happen.

Awareness gives you the power to step in and say “I’m in this moment”. This is what it means to be mindful.

Being mindful of the moment allows you to critically think about it, rather than get swept along in the automatic nature of shame responses (the consequences).

You can then think to yourself:

“Ok, I’m now feeling shame, because I feel low, small, and like I’m not good enough. How did I get here? What just happened to trigger this? What was said, what did I see, what did I imagine? What was the moment?

When you’re able to spot a moment like that, write it down, so you build up a little list of shame triggers in a journal.

With awareness comes power

As you get better, and more accustomed, to spotting these moments – you’ll be much better at being able to intervene and control them for better outcomes.

Like I mentioned, I soon dropped road-rage moments. I’m calmer and more thoughtful in situations with new people – and I think a lot of this came from realising that they were going through their own shame triggers too.

You might be really surprised as the subtle, but numerous changes that begin to unfold around you!

Share your story

Do you have a story to share about finding your shame triggers, or one you managed to gain better control of? Tell us about it here!

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