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erradicating shame WHAT IS SHAME?

SHAME is a painful emotion caused by a strong sense of embarrass- ment, unworthiness, or disgrace. Not that most of us need a diction- ary definition to remind us of the unmistakable experience of shame!

Let’s start by differentiating be- tween shame and guilt: guilt is a feeling we get when we think that we did something bad, whereas shame is a feeling we get that we simply are bad; that is, before we’ve even said or done anything we just are bad; inherently bad to the core. Fact of life. Fait accomp- lis. Just the way it is and nothing to be done about it.

Have you ever wondered how it possible that fairly intelligent peo- ple, even those with ample proof that they are loved and liked, even those who are successful and with a true sense of passion and pur- pose in life, even people that must know deep down that they are in- herently good people, can drop into shame and shut down in an instant - with a single thought or memory, or a word or a look from someone else?

How can shame, ranked by numer- ous models as a ‘low energy’ feel- ing, stop mature and emotionally literate people dead in their tracks and shut their creativity and self- expression down in the blink of an eye?

John Bradshaw writes in Healing the Shame that Binds You ‘I used to drink to solve the problems caused by drinking. The more I drank to relieve my shame-based loneliness and hurt the more I felt ashamed. Shame begets shame I came to see that shame is one of the major destructive forces in hu- man life.’

When I first read this book in

2007 it touched me deeply; it felt that finally someone understood my internal world and life experi- ence - through the lens of shame. He articulated with one hundred percent accuracy the difficulties in my day-to-day activities that others seemed to perform with ease and comfort – like walking into a room full of people, going on a date or even asking a friend for a favour (all of which could be torture for shame based people.)

Bradshaw differentiates between healthy and toxic shame and sug- gests that healthy shame is there to keeps us humble, to remind us that we’re human and that we some- times need help and to keep us open to learning (as opposed to ar- rogantly thinking that we should be able to do everything by ourselves and that we know it all).

He postulates that unless healthy shame gets processed or released it turns to toxic shame which be- comes a self-perpetuating down- wards shame spiral; see diagram on next page.

Drawing from my own experi- ence I agree with Bradshaw that unhealthy thinking is the biggest causes of shame-bound spirals. Unhealthy thinking causes shame, which causes more unhealthy thinking which causes more shame, and so on. It is therefore also in the area of changing our thoughts that we find the most effective solutions to heal shame; more about that later.

It seems to me that Bradshaw suggests that the journey to heal shame is by default a painful and long one, and if my interpretation is correct in this regard I speculate that Emotional Freedom Tech- niques would change his view.

I think this book is essential read- ing for all practitioners for two reasons:

1. if you are someone who experi- ences severe shame I believe this book will provide valuable context for your life experience and a much deeper understanding of the shame dynamic; I believe that we absolutely have to continue clear- ing our own issues when we work with clients.

2. it will help you get inside the heads and worlds of those who do and who may come to you for help and enable you to meet them where they are, in their model of the world.


The reason shame is a problem is because it kills; it kills relationships, spontaneity, creativity and it kills through suicides, depression and addictions.

It’s a problem because unless the cycle is broken it gets passed on from generation to generation.

It’s a problem because it’s all-per- vasive yet often sublimely subtle.

It’s a problem because unless you deal with it, it will deal with you.


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