what is shame? 

Shame is as a painful belief in one’s own core defectiveness. It involves a whole-body physical/emotional response, accompanied by a set of thoughts. (E.g., “I am fundamentally flawed, bad, and defective”), isolation from others, and a spiritual of worthlessness as a person.

Shame & The Four Spheres of Self

Understanding shame begins with understanding of the multi-layered self.

Public Self: what we show to others including our roles (e.g., spouse, child) and public image (e.g., always smiling).

Defensive Self: keeps people at a distance protecting the inner aspects of the self including shame. The defensive self also prevents the individual from having inner knowledge.

Defective/Shamed Self: the feeling of being flawed at the core. This is where people keep their secrets and things they would not want the public to know.

Core Self: is the private and intimate part of the self that only a few people usually see. It is the place of deepest feelings, hopes, dreams, and essence.

Defenses Against Shame

Everybody feels some shame at times, but some people live with excessive shame. Their feelings of shame never seem to go away and their relationships reflect the deep painful emotions of the defective self. Because extreme shame is often too difficult to endure, people distort the feeling to make it less painful. These defenses help in the short term but do not heal shame.

  • Denial: The person stays unaware of the shame that is below the surface and is often primarily engaged in the world of appearances (public self).
  • Withdrawal: When shame is excessive, people retreat from others because contact can be too painful. Withdrawal provides protection from judgement and humiliation.
  • Rage: rage drives others away and protects the person from revealing shame. Rage breaks the connection between people and increases the person’s shame in the long term.
  • Perfectionism: For the perfectionist, mistakes are avoided at all costs as they are evidence of fundamentally flawed self. Any mistake is evidence of total failure.
  • Arrogance: Arrogance can be either grandiosity or contempt. Grandiosity involves inflating the self and contempt involves deflating others. Both protect against inner feelings of shame.
  • Exhibitionism: Exhibitionism involves outrageous behaviors and displays what the person would really like to hide. Converting embarrassment into attention-seeking behavior sets the person apart from others and increases shame over time. 

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