Where Shame Lives

Shame is one of those words that elicits a strong visceral reaction from our body and mind. Probably just reading that one word you may have noticed yourself wanting to stop reading this blog (avoidance) or your stomach cringing (psychosomatic symptom expression). Shame is often associated with feelings and emotions we try to block from our conscious mind because if we were to feel them, the pain would be too overwhelming. Shame is not visible like depression (lying in bed or crying) or anxiety (not being able to sit still or shortness of breath), but one could argue that it impacts our mental health all the same. But feelings are fundamental to the way we experience our humanness in the world and to live without them would be living in a world that is simply black and white.

Shame is an emotion that thrives in darkness and isolation. Shame grows and spreads when we feel that we cannot tell people what we are experiencing, thinking, and feeling because we are afraid others will judge us. In therapy, I see this with the patients I work with who are seeking treatment for depression, martial conflicts, stress, anxiety, and the list could go on and on. But there is a collective experience that all these patients (and almost every person in the world) have in common; they all feel that if they shared what is troubling them, no one would love them, understand them, or care for them.

Shames can be associated with such primary emotions as: anger, fear, disgust, sadness, surprise, and even happiness. But what moves us away from these six primary emotions are the experiences we have had make us feel that if someone saw our true self, we would not be viewed in the same way. We believe our partners would not love us anymore or we should not have received that job promotion. If you ask anyone if they have felt shame, notice their reaction and I bet you can notice their face and body speak things to you that words could not even begin to describe. But the questions is, how do we get rid of shame, or at the very least, take away its power?

When working with people in therapy, one of the most powerful things I can do is empathetically listen to one’s life without judgment. It is not just the years or education and clinical rotations that have made me a better psychologist, but the ability to truly understand the elements that make us human. From mistakes, to regrets, to sadness, to uncertainty, people hide these parts of themselves because to show them to anyone else would be incredibly scary. In therapy, myself and other therapists are given the gift of listening to another person without judgments, but instead with supportive and caring stance.

Shame is the mold and decay that lives within the walls of our houses, apartments, and lofts. The most effective way to remove all of the mold is to open the walls and let the light in. When this happens, the light can begin to shine on that dark and lonely place. And because of this, we are able to reunite with the loved ones and their understanding that they have been to that same place too. That you are not alone in that feeling we try so hard to hide ourselves from.

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