shame

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I've known people who feel so much shame about themselves that they never allow themselves to feel good about themselves.  They never take pride in things that they do, and they generally talk down about themselves.  If someone compliments them, they have a hard time accepting the compliment.  Somewhere along the line, someone has caused them to feel a deep sense of shame that has stuck with them for years, and which they're having a hard time shaking off.

This shame turns their life into an emotional hell.

Shame and guilt are strongly related; for me, the easiest way to make the distinction between the two is in the sentences "I feel ashamed," and "I feel guilty."  The two feelings are not the same for me.

Shame and guilt are very similar in one important aspect, though:  they are both feelings that people will use against you if they have the chance.  This is especially true of "authority" figures who are insecure themselves--if they can get other people to feel badly about themselves, then their own power or strength grows, in their minds.  Unfortunately, many of these people prey on others who are very vulnerable, and they can cause someone to feel a great sense of shame about him or herself for a very long time.  How many of us haven't heard the words "You should be ashamed of yourself"?

And how many people have taken those words to heart and never let them go, carrying their shame into adulthood, parenthood, their careers, and every other facet of their lives?

Truly, nobody in the world has the right to tell me how I should feel.  If I do something that they don't like, that's okay--I need to learn about feelings myself, not hear about them from others who may or may not define feelings in the same ways that I do.  If I internalize their words and start to feel a deep sense of shame about myself and who I am, then I'm simply sabotaging my future chances to come to terms with who I am and what I feel.

I have to look at this from another perspective, too--do I attempt to make other people feel ashamed for their words or actions?  Because if I push too hard, I may end up contributing to years of emotional pain and suffering for this person.  Do I have the right to define what another person should be ashamed of?

Many religious leaders are quick to use shame as a tool to try to get people to "follow God" more closely.  They don't see that getting people to follow anything because of a sense of shame--rather than because of a strong desire to follow--is ultimately more destructive than helpful.

Shame can be a great tool for us if we use it for what it's worth.  If I'm ashamed about the way that I talked to someone, then I need to use that sense of shame as a sign that I need to apologize.  Then I need to put the shame behind me--after all, I have no intention of doing the same thing again.  And if I do slip up and repeat the act, then I can apologize again, and be glad that the lesson has been learned more deeply.

Do you know someone who feels a deep sense of shame and who doesn't give him or herself a chance to feel good in life?  Unfortunately, we can't "fix" such people, but at least we can contribute to their "recovery" by continuing to give them positive input in their lives.  Do you feel such shame yourself?  Then you need to deal with it face to face and then put it behind you.

Listen to me, saying "You need to."  I really don't have the right to say that, do I?  So let me rephrase it:

If you will deal with your shame face to face and put it behind you, then chances are good that you will see a great improvement in your quality of life.  And here's hoping that you always will allow yourself to lead a very high-quality life!  You deserve it!

(By the way, I do believe that there's a positive side to shame.  Once having felt shame for a certain action, the desire to avoid feeling it once more keeps us from performing similar actions in the future.  But once again, we need to know how to learn from the shame and then put it out of our lives.)

Perhaps it would be good to look at some words about forgiveness. . . .
  

  
  

One of the misfortunes of our time is that in getting rid of false
shame we have killed off so much real shame as well.

Louis Kronenberger

   
  

  

As painful as shame is, it does seem to be the guardian of many of the secret,
unexplored aspects of our beings.  Repressed shame must be experienced if
we are to come to terms with the good, the bad, and the unique of what we are.

Robert Karen

 

A sense of shame is not a bad moral compass.

Colin Powell

   
  

Once we realize that imperfect understanding is the human condition,
there is no shame in being wrong, only in failing to correct our mistakes.

George Soros

   

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Some things you must always be unable to bear.  Some things you must never
stop refusing to bear.  Injustice and outrage and dishonor and shame.  No
matter how young you are or how old you have got.  Not for kudos and not
for cash.  Your picture in the paper nor money in the bank, neither.  Just
refuse to bear them.

William Faulkner
   




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We live in an atmosphere of shame. We are ashamed of everything
that is real about us; ashamed of ourselves, of our relatives, of our
incomes, of our accents, of our opinions, of our experience, just
as we are ashamed of our naked skins.

George Bernard Shaw

   

Your shame hides in many places - in anger, blame, denial, workaholism,
perfectionism, drinking, and anything else you compulsively engage in to
make yourself feel better.  But if you could just learn to be vulnerable
for one second, and open up to the pain, you would find
there's no place left for your shame to hide.

Adam Appleson

   
   

Shame is an unhappy emotion invented by pietists in order to exploit the human race.

Blake Edwards

    

Exposure to oneself lies at the heart of shame. We discover in experiences
of shame the most sensitive, intimate and vulnerable parts of ourselves.

unattributed

   

   

Everyone needs a sense of shame, but no one needs to feel ashamed.

Frederick Nietzsche

    

Whatever’s begun in anger ends in shame.

Benjamin Franklin

  

The secret thoughts of a person run over all things, holy, profane,
clean, obscene, grave, and light, without shame or blame.

Thomas Hobbes

   
  
Shame is closely related to guilt, but there is a key qualitative difference.
No audience is needed for feelings of guilt, no one else need know, for the
guilty person is his own judge. Not so for shame. The humiliation of shame
requires disapproval or ridicule by others. If no one ever learns of a misdeed
there will be no shame, but there still might be guilt. Of course, there may
be both. The distinction between shame and guilt is very important, since
these two emotions may tear a person in opposite directions. The wish to
relieve guilt may motivate a confession, but the wish to avoid the
humiliation of shame may prevent it.

Paul Ekman
   
Shame is the lie someone told you about yourself.

Anais Nin

Shame occurs when you haven't been able to get away with the 'who' you want people to think you are.

Carl Whitaker

Share whatever it is you're ashamed about. You may think you can hide your shame by not talking about it, but in reality, it's your shame that's hiding you.

Adam Appleson

Where shame is, there is also fear.

John Milton
   

The basis of shame is not some personal mistake of ours, but
the ignominy, the humiliation we feel that we must be what we
are without any choice in the matter, and that this
humiliation is seen by everyone.

Milan Kundera

   

As children grow in environments in which their needs and longings for
specialness and warm relatedness are consistently frustrated, they begin
to turn away from their own needs in depression and shame.  We can imagine
the young children wondering, "What is wrong with me that I get so little
response from my mother?  The two possible answers are I am too defective
and unworthy of love, and there is something wrong with what I am asking for."
In both cases, there is something wrong, either with the children themselves
or with their needs and desires.  This experience of unimportance or wrongness
is the common relational backdrop for vulnerability and susceptibility to shame.

Andrew P. Morrison