Shame is an emotion driven by a since of failure of an ideal state that has been identified as a social norm. Guilt differs greatly from shame, and is sometime confused with it. Guilt is a negative evaluation of a specific behavior.
A child can develop self shame at an early age. It can be based on a perceived misunderstanding of something said by someone else, many times a parent or sibling.
A possible example of this could be a child overhearing a conversation or argument that parents are having.The child internalizes that he or she is the subject of the discussion causing an internal feeling of shame. The same could take place in a situation where a sibling continually picks on a brother or sister. Continued taunting of a young mind over a physical or emotional condition could make the child feel shame over the fact that they do not meet the established norm.
Five Issues That Can Lead To Shame
- Self-awareness: For an individual to feel shame there must be self-awareness that others are making a judgement about him or her. They are the center of attention and are aware of a perceived norm. The individual understands that others do not see the person as meeting those norms.
- Self-blame: Someone aware that they are being judged by others can become a victim of self imposed shame. The individual would need to differentiate right from wrong and they would need to take the blame for a specific issue.
- Standards: If someone understands that there are specific standards and if they break them it can instill shame.
- Personal traits: Individuals who hold a high bar on public self-consciousness tend to be self-blame prone.
- Self-esteem: Causes someone to feel poorly about themselves and any hardship that they tend to encounter. Leading them to blame their “bad self” which in many cases causes deeper levels of self-blame.
Feelings of unworthiness, real or perceived can be extremely uncomfortable and destructive to someone’s long term physical and emotional health. It can lead to long-lasting social, professional and even sexual issues.Unresolved shame can lead to low self-esteem, depression and anxiety.
Living with shame, no matter the reason can be a lonely demoralizing state. The effects can be long lasting and lead to a life of self destruction and regret.
When someone imposes self shame on themselves, especially, based on issues from childhood it can be difficult to overcome. Here are several ways to confront self imposed shame.
- Take ownership even when the feelings are not justified, then allow it to dissipate with time. Like most emotions time will fade feelings once realized.
- Alter the standards of how you perceive the rules.
- Forgive yourself for whatever inadequacies or norms that are causing these feelings.
- Confession of any issues that you have done or believe you may have done to cause these feelings.
Confronting these issues of self imposed shame that are carried from childhood can be the most difficult to deal with particularly when there is a misunderstanding regarding conversations or norms that they feel they have caused make it very difficult to deal with but can be overcome.
Here is an article from Behavioral Health Evolution:
Excerpted from the e-book How to Change Your Thinking about Shame: A Hazelden Quick Guide. Published by Hazelden, 2012. Visit the Hazelden bookstore for more information.
Passage on shame-based thoughts cited from Ronald Potter-Efron and Patricia Potter-Efron’s Letting Go of Shame: Understanding How Shame Affects Your Life (Center City, MN: Hazelden, 1989), 14, 115.