When you were young, you came into a society. Socialization is a must in an un-awakened society. In an un-awakened society there are collective social and cultural values. When we value one thing, we often condemn the opposite. For example, self-sacrifice may be a social value and selfishness is condemned. We deem one good and the other bad. In order to keep the social order, we socialize children, which basically means we train them to behave in a way that is acceptable to the society we live in. We indoctrinate children with our social and cultural values and reward them when they adhere to those values. We punish children when they demonstrate behavior that contradicts our social and cultural values. So as a child, if we want our needs to be met, survive in society and have a chance at feeling things like love and belonging and contribution and safety, we have one option… to adopt those values of the society we are born into and hold ourselves to them!
Let’s say that when you were younger you ran out into the family room naked. And let’s say you were raised in a society that valued modesty and condemned public nudity. The adults in your environment would immediately react by discouraging the behavior. They might get angry or send you back to your room or doll out a consequence. The disapproval would be painful enough that you would feel embarrassment and humiliation. This would be a painful enough experience that you would want to avoid it in the future at all costs. So, what you do in order to avoid it in the future is that you adopt the social value of modesty and you make it your own standard. From this point on, you get to be your own “police officer” holding yourself to those standards. This is much more empowering than having other people police your behavior and punish you. Basically, you become obsessed with keeping yourself good. Being good after all means getting your needs met and being loved and belonging. Being bad means not getting your needs met, being ostracized and punished and being unloved. From this point on, shame takes over. It takes over to save you from negative future consequences. It exists to keep you in check. It is a function of the conscience. Anytime you violate your own adopted values, you slip into shame. The people who struggle with shame the most were often disciplined by adults who made a direct correlation between doing bad and being bad. For example, a child who steals a cookie off the counter top and is told “bad girl” or “I told you no, what the hell is wrong with you” is going to be unable to differentiate between their negative action and themselves being bad. Shame is about being bad instead of guilt, which is about doing bad. This is painful enough when shame comes on occasion in direct response to something you have done that makes you feel like a bad person. But there are times when shame is a permanent state of being. If the truth of yourself as an individual violates the social values you have adopted, you will feel a permanent sense of shame because you have determined that if something about you conflicts with social values, something is wrong with you and it is in fact you that is bad. Early on in life people develop an internalized view of themselves as either adequate or inadequate within the world. If we find that something about us conflicts with the values of our social group, especially if we experience negative consequences for those things, we get the message that we do not fit in the world. We are inadequate, inferior, unworthy and not good enough. So you can see that shame is the root of low self-esteem.
For example, lets say that you are born into a typical Christian family but you are gay. For the sake of survival you adopt the social values that have been put forth by the bible and subsequently your family and you believe that being gay is an abomination (bad). Your standard will be “I must be straight”. But internally you know you are not straight and so you are going to permanently fall short of your own standard. You will feel shame all the time as a permanent state of being. As long as that is in fact your standard. And keep in mind that you can have conscious standards but also subconscious standards. If you feel shame but don’t know why, it’s because you have a subconscious standard that you are unaware of. It must be known that shame manifests as some vicious, vicious physical ailments in the body. The first and foremost being AIDS. The number one energetic cause of AIDS is in fact perpetual shame, usually with regards to one’s own sexuality. Some other ailments that can be caused by shame are chronic fatigue syndrome, acne, addictions, eating disorders, impotence, kidney problems, cancer, yeast infections, stuttering and other speech problems, shin bone injuries, chronic pain, depression, anxiety, bi polar, all immune system disorders; most especially disorders where the body begins to attack itself.
When people feel shame, they often defend themselves against that shame in certain ways. The first is, they become incredibly defensive. It can feel like you are walking on broken glass or thin ice around them. They blame others often aggressively. Blame diverts attention from one’s own insecurities and flaws. It makes someone wrong so we can feel right. And when people struggle with shame, they become consumed by contempt for others. Other contempt sometimes prevents us from feeling self-contempt. Contempt protects us from feelings of shame because it gives us a way to deny the fact that in truth, at our core, we feel beneath consideration, deserving of scorn, worthless and as if something is bad or wrong about us. People who feel shame often become highly narcissistic (do not confuse narcissism with self love, it is anything but) they become obsessively preoccupied with their own self-interests and their own needs and wants. They go on a quest externally to find approval, superiority, admiration and significance. The quest for attention is an attempt to fill the void of feeling worthless. To understand more about narcissism, watch my video on YouTube titled “Narcissism”
So how do we stop feeling ashamed if we are struggling with shame? 1. First and foremost we need to become fully aware of what our standards actually are and decide if we want to change those standards. Just becoming aware of the standards and social values we are holding ourselves to is enough to decrease the power they hold over us. But we have to be brave enough to be willing to admit to them even if it makes us embarrassed to admit to them. If we do not want to change the standard we have then acknowledging that we don’t at least gives us some power because it makes the shame bearable, something we are choosing to let stay with us. 2. If we want to change the standards, we need to change our beliefs. A social value or standard that you have adopted like “I should be straight instead of gay”, is in fact a belief so is “If I’m gay, I’m an abomination”. So once we find the beliefs we have about the standard we are holding ourselves to, we have the opportunity to change them. To find out how to change a belief, watch my video on YouTube titled “How to Change a Belief”. Also apply these beliefs to Byron Katie’s process called “The Work”.
3. We need to have a serious think about right vs. wrong. If we feel shame, we have already wandered into the land of stigma. Question your social and cultural values. It seems straightforward enough but hardly anyone ever does it. Hardly anyone recognizes that their beliefs may or may not be true, and that they are full of beliefs they simply picked up from their environment. For example, few people born into a Catholic community question their beliefs, they simply adopt them as true. This way of adopting beliefs is so unconscious it is more like we contract our beliefs in the same way that we contract an illness. This is dangerous if the beliefs you contract do not benefit you or the world. You need to question the rightness and wrongness of everything; even the things that seem obviously right or wrong in order to reach full awareness and also in order to stop feeling like you are bad. 4. We need to integrate the feeling of shame. If we feel shame in our adulthood, that is because we were pushed into feeling shame as children by the adults in our society. These are traumatic wounds to our emotional body. For this reason, when we feel shame, we need to sink down into it and be unconditionally present with it, find the child in the memory where we are being shamed and then re-parent that wounded inner child. To understand how this process works, watch my video on YouTube titled “How To Heal The Emotional Body”. 5. We need to be disciplined with our self-approval process. Every day, we need to pick one thing that we disapprove of about ourselves and we need to find approval for it. We are looking to feel better about what we reject about ourselves. For example, if you think you are dark, you need to find approval for being dark. If you think you have cellulite, you need to get way outside the box and find approval for cellulite. We can invite other people to contribute by brainstorming ideas about how we can approve of what we disapprove of. Ask yourself “how is this thing I disapprove of good?” We can also do this relative to other people. If we hold ourselves to standards, we also hold other people to standards and tend to be quite condemning of them or at least of aspects of them. So we can do this same exercise relative to them. How is this thing I disapprove of about him or her good?
6. Recognize your insatiable desire to be good and also ponder why you desire so badly to be good. Then you need to look for proof that you are good. Positive self-focus is of paramount importance. Again, we can involve other people in this process by asking them to tell us what they like about us. Ask yourself “How would someone benefit by having a relationship with me?” And “How am I a good person? I’ll start by telling you that people, who experience shame, have a very strong conscience. This means you have strict morals and internal discipline. And throughout history, people with a conscience have been seen as good people because it means they’re not going to hurt anyone intentionally.
There is an innate yearning in people to connect, to belong, to be seen and felt and heard and understood and valued. If we feel chronic shame, we have not felt these things in our life. We have been met with the opposite. As a result, we withdrew and closed ourselves off and shut down to the world. Now there is a split within our heart, between the insatiable yearning for those things and the fear and pain of opening up and being hurt again.
We need to address this split within ourselves with empathy and compassion. Many people within society carry this same split and you have the opportunity to heal it in yourself by practicing the art of seeing, feeling, hearing, understanding and seeing the value in yourself. And you also have the power to heal it in other people by practicing the art of seeing, feeling, hearing, understanding and seeing the value in them.
We did not end up this way because something is wrong or bad about us; we ended up this way because we experienced hurt (as so many people do) during the process of socialization. And the more we see that we were hurt because of ignorance and also because the people who hurt us went through the exact same kind of pain once and merely perpetuated it, the less personal that hurt will seem. We will see then that maybe we have come to shift the social values and standards in our society, which is why we could not adhere to them in the first place. In fact if we could have conformed to them, our society would never evolve.