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Shame

Shame affects everyone. But its impacts aren’t always obvious, and so we may not realise that we’re acting and reacting out of shame. Generally we think of shame as a bad thing – but is it? Is it all bad? Or does it have a purpose? – a purpose rooted in our evolutionary neurobiology?

Understanding Shame

Shame is a principal consequence of trauma, especially interpersonal trauma such as child sexual abuse. We’ve often thought that this is because somehow we cognitively assess the trauma to be shameful, but the reality is more in the fact that there is a huge overlap between the neurobiology of shame and the neurobiology of trauma. Both take us into the ‘red zone’ (in the words of the trauma traffic light) of shutdown, dissociation, freeze and submission.

And so the purpose of shame is actually survival: shame teaches us to avoid behaviours that would see us excluded from the group. And shame puts the brake on behaviours that provoke more attack.

Shame is principally a bodily state, rather than a mental one: its roots are in our physiology rather than our thoughts. And that is why shame rarely responds easily to words. In fact, even just thinking about shame can provoke shame in us. Treatment for shame can exacerbate shame.

Shame is debilitating, destructive, and sometimes even dangerous, even though its primary evolutionary purpose is to keep us safe. How can this be? What can we do about it?

Explore my resources below, and especially my ‘Working with Shame’ course to find out more.

Resources

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Working with Shame

Working with Shame

A heartfelt, emotive course on the neurobiology of shame, its overlap with trauma, and how to work effectively with it in the therapy room. With both left-brain neuroscience and right-brain personal narrative, this course uniquely looks at how shame manifests first and foremost in our bodies, and how to work with shame without exacerbating it. Join me on the journey from crippling shame to living with the courage to be imperfect.

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Podcast: #8 – Shame, Unshame and who you really are

Podcast: #8 – Shame, Unshame and who you really are

In this podcast, I talk about the crippling isolation of shame, and how to move beyond it. I talk about how shame is a survival strategy which tries to keep us from being hurt. And how, in moving towards ‘unshame’, we need to find out who we really are and live from that place of deep self-compassion.

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Shame is the handbrake on anger

Shame is the handbrake on anger

Shame so often has been conceptualised as a belief in the badness of the self, a construct of faulty cognitions. But if it serves a self-protective purpose, of acting as a handbrake on anger to keep us safe from further harm?

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Why is shame such a central experience of child sexual abuse?

Why is shame such a central experience of child sexual abuse?

Child sexual abuse and shame are inextricably intertwined. As victims, we feel the shame that the perpetrator doesn't. But why is it so hard to shift this shame? This article looks at six reasons why the deck is stacked against us.

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What do you need?

What do you need?

‘How can I help you?’ the therapist asks me. ‘What do you need from me?’ I look at her closely, examining her features, whilst also looking through her, to make sure I don’t connect too closely. First the fear: Is this a trick? What does she mean? What does she want? Why is she saying this? Then the shame: What right have I to be helped? And afterwards, the sadness: No-one has ever offered to help me. Three emotions in three seconds.

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How shame saved my life

How shame saved my life

What if shame is nothing to be ashamed of … but instead is the hero in our story? Even as I write it, my head is twisting inside-out, upside-down to get used to the idea. But it’s something I’ve come to firmly believe is true, no matter how counter-intuitive it may feel.

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The start of my journey out of shame

The start of my journey out of shame

Shame. It’s a familiar word and yet the more I think about it, the stranger it becomes. What does it mean? Where does it come from? How does it go? What is the point of it? Why does it even exist? I’d never even considered it before therapy. It was just a run-of-the-mill emotion: one that I’d heard about, but never (so I thought) really experienced.

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I see suffering

I see suffering

I want to fight her, I really do. She’s just not rising to it. ‘I see your suffering,’ she says, the words melodic and gentle. Now she’s looking at me, and she’s evidently not scared of me. She’s wiping down the space between us with tenderness. ‘Tell me about your suffering.’ Something about her softness breaks my aggression and I look down, and sigh. There’s pain in that sigh. It burns to breathe in again.

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Why stigma makes sense (even though it’s not right)

Why stigma makes sense (even though it’s not right)

Stigma is the double-whammy of life after trauma. Not only do we suffer abuse in childhood, perhaps resulting in a post traumatic or dissociative disorder in adulthood, but then we are stigmatised, shunned and shamed for it too. How can that be right?

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Why the symptoms of trauma make sense

Why the symptoms of trauma make sense

So this was me, then: a tick-box list of symptoms demonstrating how screwed up I was. ‘Loser!!’ it screamed at me, casually. The more items I ticked, the more it screamed: ‘Bigger loser!’ Forty items – tick, tick, tick: ‘Biggest loser in the world!’ And so shame sat like a heavy puddle of tar in my stomach.

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Trauma and the bears – a fable

Trauma and the bears – a fable

Recovery from trauma starts with acknowledging the existence of bears. It requires the involvement of a safe tribe. It necessitates the telling of our story and the healing of our wounds. And it requires action to keep us safe from further bear attacks.

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