Shame and Vulnerability
Shame and vulnerability are two closely linked emotions that none of us enjoy feeling much. Shame tends to come into force when, usually for some reason in our past, we believe we are bad people and, and this is crucial, don’t believe we can do anything much about it. We tend to feel guilty about things we have done and shamed about what we think we might be- not good enough, not clever enough, not a good enough child, not pretty enough ….and so on.
When we are overwhelmed by feelings of shame, we are most likely to go to a very defensive place and be unable to think beyond how bad we feel. I know when I go there all I feel able to do is defend my self, and often just want to strike back if I feel I don’t have any control over the situation. If we know that we have done something that does not fit with our values, that has hurt someone, about which we feel guilty we can probably do something to make amends. The end result of this is that both we and, hopefully, any others involved will feel better and be able to move on. The burden of shame, however just seems to grow with each shaming experience, exacerbated by a voice of ‘I told you so’ in your head, and it feels harder to shift.
Shame is often historical, or at least it’s roots are historical, and it is likely that you have spent so long believing that you are bad that it is really difficult to move on from that and you may not even be aware of just how strong that message is inside you.
Psychotherapy can help shift, or at least ease, this burden by helping you to come to terms with who you are - maybe you aren’t the best student, or daughter or physicist in the world, but actually you are all sorts of other things- a good friend, a great mother, a good gardener…. and they are what actually matter to you, now.
However for this to happen we have to be able to let ourselves be vulnerable enough to admit it, initially to ourselves and then to someone else. That in itself can feel like a very shaming experience especially if the person you are talking to doesn’t respond in a way that you find helpful. But if we take the risk of admitting to the feeling and letting ourselves think about what it means and where it came from and maybe that it is not actually correct, if we allow ourselves to be a little vulnerable, we can move on from it.
I was inspired to think about this because a lot of the people I work with experience shame, because I tend to go there when I am studying for qualifications and feel I am being judged by others and because I recently found this RSA short with an American psychologist and author Dr Brené Brown. She has researched and written and spoken a lot on this topic.