Shame and anxious avoidance

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!

The basic fear is “what if someone finds me out”.

What if someone finds out you’re not good enough?

Anxious-avoidant behaviours keep you from threatening situations – but they also of course give more energy and reinforcement to the feelings of shame. Again, its the vicious cycle at work.

Relationships get threatened… or never even begin

In relationships, its not uncommon for someone with feelings of shame to push someone away, so that they never have to get close enough to know you and reject you.

If they aren’t pushed away, then they might be kept at arm’s length instead.

Not being openly honest, not allowing yourself to be vulnerable in just being who you are, is a form of avoidance.

Worse still though, a potentially fulfilling relationship might not even get off the ground because of avoidance – not making those important first steps!

Genuine friendships are hard to come by

Its no wonder that deep, honest and meaningful friendships are hard to come by these days – the silent epidemic of shame has allowed society to evolve to a point where we barely have to truly listen or know people any more!

Texting, Facebooking, emailing – they are great ways to really avoid proper communication!

I’ve also noticed how When No One Asks After You“>rare it is that people genuinely ask after each other, or remember each other’s sensitive and important issues.

By avoiding genuine conversations, the risk is avoided of you asking them important, caring questions which might threaten to expose the scary feelings within.

Another dark side of this tendency, is that people will often unconsciously seek out friends who don’t pose any challenge.

When surrounded by people who may be similarly shameful, repressed and lacking self-acceptance, there is little challenge or inspiration to reach your potential and break through barriers. Its much less threatening, to the sensitive ego.

Like seeks like, and people make a habit of wallowing in each other’s shame effects.

The moment one begins to improve, for example letting go of an addiction, they’re likely met with scorn and ridicule rather than praise and encouragement, because the other one is now threatened and the defensive shame mechanisms are in full force.

The feelings of loneliness which can arise from avoiding people or social situations are the exact feelings which cause shame – the fear of disconnection from people, of not being worthy of people’s attention or acceptance.

Career opportunities get stifled

Whole life trajectories get affected by shame-based avoidance strategies.

This is the bit that scares me the most.

That feeling that you might be living within a little comfort bubble, the edges of which have been well defined by shame-fearing avoidance strategies.

For example, not going for certain jobs, because you might have to be around too many people, give presentations, or have too much responsibility – which of course is a big threat to the shame mechanism.

What if you screw up?

What if you’re found out?

What if you’re not good enough?  

Certain opportunities might not even be noticed and recognised, because the unconscious mind got there first, realised how threatened it felt, and distracted your attention away.

It terrifies me that feelings of shame can reinforce a rigid set of expectations a person has for themselves. Anything beyond those expectations feels threatening, so the unconscious mind seeks to avoid them. However it can.

Those moments where you try encouraging someone to go for a promotion, or approach a potential relationship partner, or apply for a certain job or course – and you get those avoidance excuses in return.

Which are basically always implying the same thing –

“I’m really not good enough for that”.

Doesn’t it feel scary, to think that whole lives could be avoided, satisfaction and fulfillment, reaching true potential – because a person fears that they’re not good enough?

I absolutely recognise in myself areas of inhibition and avoidance, because of things I don’t feel good enough for. Whole careers I could have pursued if I had believed in myself more at the time.

For me, the shame triggers happen when I see other people doing things I secretly would like to have done, and realise that they’re nothing to be scared of. People just like me, who obviously lacked the same feelings of shame, and took the opportunity. 

Worse still is when I see people brazenly displaying the exact same failures of character or ability that I would be terrified of doing, for the shame feelings they’d reinforce in me – yet they get away with it! 

Like The Apprentice, which has me squirming inside watching shameless people screw up again and again and still love themselves for it.

I want to mock and criticise them – but really I’m just envious because they possess the lack of fear and shame that I crave to really get on with things!

Do you avoid, or experience this effect from others?

Share your story here! Do you recognise areas in your life where you feel held back by fear of failure? Have you ever pushed someone away, or been pushed away, because of fears of rejection or abandonment?

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