There is an unspoken epidemic in our culture. Almost everyone experiences it at one time or another. Some of us have a lot of it, some a little, yet none of us get through life without it. I am talking about the emotion of shame. As a holistic addictionologist specializing in the mind-body connection, I often see the stress and chronic symptoms that tightly-held emotions have on the physical body. I even wrote a book about it, Balancing Your Emotional Health.

Shame is not to be confused with guilt. Shame is about who we are and guilt is about our behaviors.

Guilt = I did something bad; I am sorry, I made a mistake.

Shame = I am bad; I am a mistake.

Shame has two catch phrases that we buy into:

  1. “You are not good enough” and
  2. “Who do you think you are?”

Many words in our vocabulary describe forms of shame. They often differ in the intensity of the shame they express, but the basic archetype is the same. Here is a partial list, in approximate order from the most mild to the most intense: uncomfortableness, uneasiness, embarrassment, chagrin, inadequacy, self-blame, humiliation, dishonor, feeling ridiculous, mortification, self-condemnation.

Shame is universal and one of the most primitive human emotions that we experience. The only people who don’t experience shame are sociopaths who lack the capacity for empathy and human connection. We are all afraid to talk about our shame. And, the less we talk about shame the more control it has over our lives. Shame thrives under secrecy, silence and judgment.

Shame often starts out as embarrassment – that hot flush when we realize we just made a mistake, spoke incorrectly or inappropriately, etc., and we now fear that whatever we did will cause others to see us as flawed and less than the perfect, in-control person we would like to be perceived as.

Brené Brown, Ph.D., in her book The Gifts of Imperfection, defines shame as follows: Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.

She continues, “Shame is all about fear—people won’t like us if know the truth about who we are, where we come from, what we believe, how much we are struggling, or even how wonderful we are when we are soaring! Sometimes it’s as hard to own our strengths as our struggles.”

Shame loves secrecy. One way to start unwinding the hold of shame is to tell our story to someone who has earned our trust, has earned the right to hear our story. It seems counterintuitive, yet the best way to banish shame is to reach out and tell our story to someone who can be compassionate and empathetic. Shame can’t survive being shared.

Over the years, I have coached many patients back to greater health and wellness. I practice active, non-judgmental listening as I tune in to the information their physical body offers. If any of this talk about shame resonates with you, and you are also dealing with symptoms of addiction, ill-health, dis-ease, or chronic pain, please call our office and make an appointment to see me, whether in person or via Skype. (805) 644-0461

Shine the light on shame and watch it wither away!

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