The Web address of this
two-page article is http://sfhelp.org/gwc/wounds/shame.htm
Clicking underlined links here will open a
new window. Other links will open an informational popup,
so please turn off your
browser's popup blocker or allow popups from this nonprofit Web site.
Follow underlined links after
finishing this article to avoid getting distracted and lost.
This YouTube video provides perspective on what you're about to read here:
This is one of a series of Lesson-1 articlesin
this Web site - free your
to guide you in calm and conflictual times, and
significant psychological wounds This
Perspective on the crippling wound of excessive
shame ("low self esteem");
101": how excessive shame relates to guilt, pride, self respect, humility,
assertiveness, addiction, and wound-recovery;
behavioral symptoms of
suggestions on how to shift excessive shame toward healthy self-respect
The article assumes you're familiar
intro to this nonprofit
Website and the premises underlying
Pause and reflect: why are you reading this article - what do you need?
Understanding shame lprepares you to convert it into healthy
pride and non-egotistical self love. Let's explore these questions:
Where does shame come from?
happens to early shame as
we grow up?
shame become excessive?
How does excessive shame relate to...
addictions (toxic compulsions)
and addiction-recovery? and...
opposite of excessive shame?;
What are common
Option - pause, reflect, and try answering each of these questions out
loud now as though to an average pre-teen. Then compare
your answers to what follows...
Where does shame come from?
Before we infants
evolved a vocabulary and learned to "think," we often experienced
powerful "good me" and "bad me"
or feelings. These came from decoding our caregivers' voice
tones, facial expressions, and behaviors; and the tranquility or stress in our
Repeatedly experiencing caregiver smiles,
friendly-faces, loving eye contact, tenderness, soothing, gentle touchings
and voice-sounds, and relaxed breast feeding build core security and
"good me" feelings.
Chronic absence of those
experiences in infants promotes anxiety and a primal "bad me"
This can happen when a primary caregiver - usually female - is overwhelmed
and/or psychologically wounded and unable to bond. It may also happen if an infant
wasn't a mutually-wanted conception.
or toxic nurturance promotes the
early formation of one or more young
personality subselves who believe and feel intensely "I'm
bad - not OK."
perceive more "bad you" than "good you" signals from our
primary caregivers, or if they're inconsistent (mixed messages) then "bad me" feelings often
grow. This is the root of shame
- "low self esteem."
Lack of genuine
affirmations verbal and physical affection; and .
often name-calling, swearing,
jeering, belittling, degrading, scorning, and being sarcastic,
Caregivers, giving the "you-disgust-me" look, lack of friendly eye contact, and
rough or painful physical contacts
Caregivers not teaching the
difference between doing wrong and being wrong (bad).
other people to
hurt, use, and humiliate us
Inadequate health care, stimulation, and nutrition;
Caregiversusing us to satisfy their own needs without caring
or understanding how that affects us (abuse),
If the people around us
young kids seldom
listen to what we're trying to say, or if they interrupt or laugh at us for trying to express ourselves, we're
apt to learn "I'm not worth listening to."
If our main adults
want todo the reverse of these things
and lovingly fill our early developmental needs
(nurture) well, our
young subselves come to feel "I'm good / lovable / OK / worthy" over time.
is a primal source of
self-respect, self-trust (confidence), and self love.
Notice that these causes focus on the infant-toddler phase of
early childhood. Other factors can ingrain and amplify early shame
as we grow through adolescence, if our caregivers don't guard us
What happens to
early shame as we grow?
As we develop our knowledge and vocabulary, our evolving
personality subselves generate constant
"inner voices" or thought streams. Most (all?) of us who were neglected
and shamed too often in our early years automatically develop an "inner
voice" which can be called our Inner Critic, Critical
or Mean Parent, or Shamer.
When our original shamers
(e.g. parents) aren't around, our well-intentioned Inner Critic diligently carries on their
work. S/He fills our mind with harsh criticisms and
comments like "Your socks don't match (you're so stupid)," and
"How could you possibly forget Alex's birthday?" A common companion
"voice" comes from our
S/He relentlessly lets us know
of our endless (shameful) failures. Do you have these inner voices?
Some young kids also evolve a judgmental
Preacher/Moralizer subself. It ceaselessly augments the Critic by pronouncing rigid
judgments about us and other people. These tireless subselves also nourish
Guilty Child in us.
mean well, just as your shaming, blaming (wounded, overwhelmed)
caregivers (and their ancestors) did.
Shame has been called wryly "the gift that goes on giving," because
shamed-based (wounded) parents often unintentionally pass it on to their kids. Overly-shamed kids and
adults can feel ashamed of their shame and other wounds.
How does shame relate to guilt?
Shame is the feeling and belief that "I am bad, unworthy, and
unlovable." Guilt is the emotional response to feeling "I broke
(someone's) rule - a should (not), must (not), cannot, ought to, have
to, etc. Usually, guilt amplifies shame ("I broke the rule, so I am
bad.") The psychological wounds of excessive shame and guilt feel
very similar, but they have different roots and merit different healing
How does shame relate to humiliation and
Shameful thoughts and feelings are a private experience.We feel embarrassed or humiliated when our shameful traits and behaviors are
exposed publicly - specially to people who's opinion of us matters. Our critical
subselves can embarrass us, and/or other people may ridicule and humiliate us
publically if we're not clear on our
personal identity and rights.
A universal "shame
gauntlet" kids must navigate is the merciless criticisms of middle-school
and high school classmates (and some adults) - specially as puberty and
early sexuality lends angst and exciting confusion to our journey toward
Bottom line - during childhood and puberty, our infantile
"bad me" feelings become a Shamed Child subself. S/He
continually influenced by our well-intentioned Inner Critic, Perfectionist, and
Preacher subselves and by certain people.
When does normal (healthy) shame become
All emotions range from
faint to extreme - e.g.
"unease" to panic, and annoyance (irritation) to rage.Moderate
(normal) shame is helpful - italerts us to adjust our
attitudes and behaviors to avoid significant
For example, feeling "I'm ashamed
(and guilty) because I'm often late to school or work," can motivate
learning why and
how to be more prompt. When normal shame is balanced by a steady, positive self-perception, it does not seriously degrade our overall self-respect or
relationships or cause "too many" of the symptoms
on page 2.
Note that you can feel "global" self respect ("I'm a good person..."),
and still feel "local" shame and guilts about one or more
(responsibilities) - e.g. "...but I'm ashamed and guilty that I'm not a better
parent / sibling / neighbor / spouse / Baptist / citizen / bus driver /
pianist / tennis player / speaker...").
Well-intentioned Guardian subselves will try to
distort reality to protect
against the pain of admitting excessive shame. If your
true Self is
free to guide
your other subselves,
admit shame without undue guilt or self-scorn, and (b) evolve an effective plan to
reduce it and other significant
Healthy shame becomes
excessive when it chronically
wholistic health, relationships, productivity, hopes, dreams, integrity, and
enjoyment of ourselves and our life. That can manifest in many
ways, including self-disgust, self-neglect, self-hatred, self-abuse,
How does excessive shame relate to
pride and humility?
Were you taught that pride is a "sin" and/or a sign of self-centeredness,
a swelled head, and/or egotism? Typical shame-based survivors of
childhood neglect are often taught shaming beliefs like these.
Premise: healthypride is a feeling of
respect, admiration, and appreciation for a person's or a group's traits,
talents, goals, and achievements. Excessive pride ("I am / we
are / they
are / better than others") is called egotism, elitism, racism,
always foster hurt, resentment, antagonism, conflict, anxiety,
distrust, and low-nurturance relationships and families.
Humility is minimizing your personal traits, talents,
assets, status, and achievements. It can range from healthy ("I see me or us
as being of equal dignity and worth to other persons") to toxic
("I am/we are inferior to other persons or groups, and don't merit
special praise or rewards.") Humility can be genuine or
pretended, and moderate to excessive.
When denied and/or justified ("It's God's commandment"),
self abuse and self neglect,
excessive personal and/or group shame
and guilt, and...
psychological wounding in minor kids.
What were you
taught about "being humble" as a child? What are you teaching your kids
about it? (e.g. "Don't brag!") See this for perspective on the
pervasive Christian value of excessive humility and the "sin" of
personal pride (superiority).
Recall - we're exploring aspects of the common psychological wound of
How does excessive shame relate to
submission and assertion?
(giving in) to others' needs, values, and opinions promotes social harmony
and cooperation. Compulsive submission suggests
significant psychological wounding. Typical
low-nurturance childhoods often
unconsciously feel inferior, so they don't deserve or expect social
respect, fairness, or equal consideration with others' needs and opinions.
Assertion is the vital
relationship skill of knowing how and when to declare your needs, opinions,
and limits. As kids, average Grown
Nurtured Children (GNCs) are taught to
respect their own rights, values, and needs as much as other people's, and to assert them with confidence.
Typical Grown Wounded Children (GWCs) are
not taught this, and may submit or assert with ambivalence, guilt, timidity, and anxiety.
They grow used to enduring the uncomfortable results of sending chronic
(inferior) messages to other people, and not filling their needs.
your true Self and reducing excessive shame and guilts over time causes genuine self-respect,
"promoting yourself to equal," and calm, firm, respectful assertions.
How does excessive shame relate to
Premise - any true addiction
(toxic compulsion) is...
a sure sign of a low-nurturance
a sign of
inner pain and
inherited psychological wounds, and...
a strategy by protective
Guardian subselves to reduce,
that pain, despite toxic results. True addictions always
provide local relief - and relentlessly increase the inner pain
(shame + guilt + remorse + anxiety) that promotes
The self-destructive pain > addiction > more pain spiral continues
until the person dies prematurely or hits true bottom
and commits to true addiction recovery - i.e. to finding another way
to reduce their inner pain.
addiction recovery ("sobriety") is required for effective
psychological healing. When you finish here, see
these articles for
more perspective on addictions and sobriety.
How does excessive shame relate to
psychological wound reduction?
Premise - growing up in a low-nurturance childhood family promotes up to six significant psychological
wounds. One wound is excessive shame.
Lesson 1 in this nonprofit
Web site focuses on identifying and reducing
these wounds. This article proposes how to convert excessive shame
to normal, and increase self respect and self love.
Most people who hit true bottom and commit to personal
wound-reduction ("recovery") will have to break long-held protective
denials to admit and reduce excessive shame and guilts. These wounds are
caused by a powerful, reactive Shamed Child, a Guilty Child,
and their tireless narrowly-focused
Inner Child's core belief that "I'm not good, worthy, or lovable" can block other
subselves' seeking wound-recovery, and/or sabotage their efforts to empower the wise resident
true Self to lead. This is specially likely when
distrustful subselves perceive wound-recovery as unneeded, unsafe, hopeless,
and/or "too hard."
Establishing a trusting relationship between the true Self and a resident
Shamed Child (and similar subselves) takes great patience, sensitivity, and
compassion to accomplish . This is
most likely if the recovering person intentionally chooses a support network
of people led by their true Selves.
What's the opposite of excessive shame?
It is non-egotistical
pride,self love, self respect, and self-nurturance
(vs. self neglect). These come from key attitudes steadily
held by your governing subselves in most or all situations and
relationships. A key attitude is some version of
"I am a good, valuable, useful,
lovable child / adult / person
no matter what anyone else says or implies. I have talents
non-shameful limitations) which empower me to bring unique value and
to other living things and our world."
+ + +
Continue with typical symptoms of
excessive shame and a summary of typical shame-conversion options.
Do you need a break first?