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Why do we feel shame?

27th January 2019
Shame is one of the most counterproductive and long-term harmful emotions.
When we feel shame we self-destruct, we push others away and we make the situation worse – without intervention this can feel like a downward spiral. Depression feeds on this (the shame of feeling unlovable, undesirable, unwanted, whether it is true or not), and so do a lot of anxiety disorders.
So why do we shame ourselves and each other?
It’s a form of socialisation – we shame others so that we can feel normal, and when aggregated across the huge numbers of people in our local, national and international communities, this created “norms”.
The problem is that the act of shaming has more to do with ourselves than it has to do with the other person, and equally the feeling of shame has more to do with ourselves than the person shaming.
On the feeling of shame, I’ve seen this break people down, and I think there are some ways to deal with it.
1. Don’t take things personally
I can hear my family giving a little chuckle at this one as I am notorious for taking things personally, but I am aware that it is incredibly counter-productive. What people say about you and to you is much more about them than it is about you. Focus on doing what you think is right, and when others try to shame you realise that it is a perspective, not a truth.
2. Think first
It’s easy to become reactive and respond or take to heart the words of others, but far better is to take the time to think. What are they really saying, what needs are being expressed? Is that your responsibility or is it theirs, and is there any value in telling them what you think or would it be better to simply remove yourself from the situation. Think first.
3. Don’t hit back
The worst thing you can do when attacked is hit back. It doesn’t reflect well on you, and it escalates a situation. Instead, find a way to understand the motivations of the person giving you a hard time, and choose not to hit back even if you feel like you should.
4. Don’t ruminate on it, move forward
It’s very easy to get stuck on a loop after someone tries to shame you for your behaviour or who you are, but you mustn’t dwell. Just move forward without worrying about it; you have more important things to do and gain very little by worrying about what others think of you.
A final note:
A friend of mine is very concerned about how her new business might impact the environment even though she has clearly thought long and hard about the best ways to reduce the carbon footprint. The stress of this kind of societal shame is clearly a barrier to her doing the work that she is clearly capable of doing. Of course we have to look out for the environment, but putting your dreams on hold because taking a flight would be contributing to emissions is counter-productive (especially considering that just 100 companies are responsible for 71% of emissions).
Don’t let shame kill your dreams.



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