My singing performance didn’t go as well as I hoped. I had worked tirelessly, rehearsing for weeks to perfect the annunciations, tone and swag of the song but it had seemed that my anxiety got the best of me. Because my worth was so wrapped around my performance, I felt like a failure. To add on top of that, my mother tossed in a statement, “See, I told you can’t make this into a career. You’re not good enough.” That statement cut me like a knife since I was incredibly passionate about music and I did have the capacity to do a good job in it. Moreover, it was my very own MOM who said that (the one who’s ‘supposed’ to be unconditional with love).
My body posture slumped in defeat and I felt like a failure. The emotion I was experiencing was the feeling of shame. Let’s dive into the logistics. Shame is a self conscious emotion that serves to remind us of an inadequacy within – forcing our body to shut down and avoid taking any social risks. The purpose of doing so is to help us stay survive.
The feeling of shame can be triggered in several ways. It’s through feelings of inadequacy, unworthiness, dishonour, regret, and disconnectedness. Let’s break those down.
Feelings of inadequacy and unworthiness are closely tied to how we felt earlier in life. The way that our parents/ environment treated us played a role in defining our belief systems which impacted the assumption of how we think we deserve to be treated, what we’re capable of, and how we perceive ourselves. A child that was taught that they’re incapable or unworthy is likely to carry that belief into adulthood.
Dishonour arises when we feel we failed to live up to cultural or personal expectations. For instance, in many cultures there is a great deal of shame associated with marrying a person outside of a religion. This can also be closely associated with race, economic and social status. This emotion is very closely bonded with the emotion of betrayal. Social rejection is incredibly painful and even deadly at times which is why shame helps us remind us of that.
Regret arises when we made a mistake in a relationship or when we missed a great opportunity. Our lack of acceptance to our human nature provokes us to participate in self destructive behaviours where through rumination hopes to emphasise to avoid a mistake like that again.
Lastly, the feeling of disconnection hopes to remind us of how terrible it is to be ALONE. If we feel disconnected amongst a group of people we often blame our character for being rejected; failing to see that other factors were at play. Shame directs us towards conformity enabling people pleasing and peer pressure to take its course.
Shame can be triggered by another person or by our own internal citic. The emotion of shame makes us believe that our character is flawed or bad which only motivates us to hide or try to save face. Unfortunately, the more we try to run away from this feeling, the more likely we are to withdraw within ourselves and fall into an addiction.
Shame is often confused with the emotion of guilt, but are VERY DIFFERENT. Guilt is when we don’t feel good about an action we made. For example, you make a joke at the expense of your friend’s insecurity and your friend turns beet red and is clearly embarrassed, ashamed and upset at you. You feel bad because you care about your friend and her well-being. Shame, on the other hand, has a great emphasis on a character flaw. It cannot see the difference between ‘bad behaviour’ and ‘bad self’.
Shame can be a messy emotion. Luckily with conscious effort we can come to acknowledge its purpose with compassion and find constructive ways to manage it.