Lesson 1 of 7  - free your true Self to guide you

Convert Excessive Shame
into Healthy Pride,
 Confidence, and Self love

By Peter K. Gerlach, MSW
Member NSRC Experts Council

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  The Web address of this 2-page article is http://sfhelp.org/gwc/wounds/shame.htm

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      This YouTube video provides perspective on what you're about to read here:

      This is one of a series of Lesson-1 articles in this Web site - free your true Self to guide you in calm and conflictual times, and reduce significant psychological  wounds  This article offers...

  • Perspective on the crippling wound of excessive shame ("low self esteem");

  • "Shame 101": how excessive shame relates to guilt, pride, self respect, humility, egotism, embarrassment, assertiveness, addiction, and wound-recovery;

  • Typical behavioral symptoms of excessive shame, and...

  • Practical suggestions on how to shift excessive shame toward healthy self-respect and self-love. .

      The article assumes you're familiar with...

      Pause and reflect: why are you reading this article - what do you need? 

    Shame 101

          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?

  • What happens to early shame as we grow up?

  • When does shame become excessive?

  • How does excessive shame relate to...

    • excessive guilt?

    • humiliation and embarrassment?

    • pride and humility?

    • submission and assertion (communication effectiveness)?

    • addictions (toxic compulsions) and addiction-recovery? and...

    • psychological-wound reduction?

  • What's the opposite of excessive shame?; and finally...

  • What are common symptoms of excessive shame?

      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...

q-mark.gif (70 bytes)  Where does shame come from?

       Before we infants evolved a vocabulary and learned to "think," we often experienced powerful "good me" and "bad me" senses or feelings. These came from decoding our caregivers' voice tones, facial expressions, and behaviors; and the tranquility or stress in our environment.

      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" attitude. 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.

       Inadequate or toxic nurturance promotes the early formation of one or more young personality subselves who believe and feel intensely "I'm bad - not OK." If we 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."

      "Inadequate or toxic nurturance" can include...

Emotionally unavailable and/or physically-absent parents.

Caregivers frequently ignoring us;

Lack of genuine affirmations verbal and physical affection; and .

Caregivers 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).

Caregivers allowing other people to hurt, use, and humiliate us

Inadequate health care, stimulation, and nutrition;

Caregivers using 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 to do 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. This 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 from them.

q-mark.gif (70 bytes)  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 Perfectionist subself. 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 right/wrong, good/bad judgments about us and other people. These tireless subselves also nourish the impressionable Guilty Child in us. They 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.

q-mark.gif (70 bytes)  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 (recovery) strategies.

q-mark.gif (70 bytes)  How does shame relate to humiliation and embarrassment?

      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 young adulthood.

      Bottom line - during childhood and puberty, our infantile "bad me" feelings become a Shamed Child subself. S/He is continually influenced by our well-intentioned Inner Critic, Perfectionist, and Preacher subselves and by certain people.

q-mark.gif (70 bytes)  When does normal (healthy) shame become excessive?

      All emotions range from faint to extreme - e.g. "unease" to panic, and annoyance (irritation) to rage. Moderate (normal) shame is helpful - it alerts us to adjust our attitudes and behaviors to avoid significant discomforts.

      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 social roles (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 resident true Self is free to guide your other subselves, s/he will (a) admit shame without undue guilt or self-scorn, and (b) evolve an effective plan to reduce it and other significant psychological wounds over time.

      Healthy shame becomes excessive when it chronically inhibits our 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, and self-mutilation.

q-mark.gif (70 bytes)  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: healthy pride is a feeling of non-egotistical approval, 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, prejudice, and/or bigotry. These 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"), excessive humility promotes...

  • 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 excessive shame.

q-mark.gif (70 bytes)  How does excessive shame relate to submission and assertion?

      Sometimes submitting (giving in) to others' needs, values, and opinions promotes social harmony and cooperation. Compulsive submission suggests significant psychological wounding. Typical survivors of 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 "I'm 1-down" (inferior) messages to other people, and not filling their needs.

       Intentionally empowering your true Self and reducing excessive shame and guilts over time causes genuine self-respect, "promoting yourself to equal," and calm, firm, respectful assertions.

q-mark.gif (70 bytes)  How does excessive shame relate to addictions?

       Premise - any true addiction (toxic compulsion) is...

  • a sure sign of a low-nurturance (dysfunctional) birth family;

  • a sign of significant personal 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 them.

      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. Stable addiction recovery ("sobriety") is required for effective psychological healing. When you finish here, see these articles for more perspective on addictions and sobriety.

q-mark.gif (70 bytes)  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 usually caused by a powerful, reactive Shamed  Child, a Guilty Child, perhaps other Inner Kids, and their tireless narrowly-focused Guardian subselves.

      An 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 fearful, 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.

q-mark.gif (70 bytes)  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 this...

 "I am a good, valuable, useful, lovable child / adult / person no matter what anyone else says or implies. I have talents to develop (and non-shameful limitations) which empower me to bring unique value and worth to other living things and our world."

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Continue with typical symptoms of excessive shame and a summary of typical shame-conversion options. Do you need a break first?