By Frank Sanchez, PhD, LMFT, Clinical Director, Promises Young Adults Program We all experience shame…
The Shame Game
Are you playing the shame game? Keeping secrets, hiding a drug problem or disguising alcohol abuse are all warning signs that you could be. And feeling embarrassed, guilty or remorseful will ensure you keep playing.
The Negativity of Shame
Shame can impact every aspect of your life so it’s important to know how to recognize it. Research professor Brené Brown, Ph.D., LMSW, says, “Women often experience shame when they are entangled in a web of layered, conflicting and competing social-community expectations. Shame creates feelings of fear, blame and disconnection.”
It’s easy then to see why shame is particularly prevalent in psychological disorders or drug and alcohol abuse. The internalized feelings of blame, guilt and fear promote the destructive spiral that takes a regular behavior and transforms it into an addiction. Similarly, shame goes hand in hand with denial, a defense mechanism that enables an individual to avoid the reality of a situation. This in turn prevents them from seeking the help they need.
Wanting to Be Perfect
It’s natural to not want to admit that you have a problem, or that you have made a mistake. While it may be uncomfortable to do, the act of apologizing, making amends or discontinuing behavior should be manageable. However, for those who have a propensity for perfectionism, the more likely desire is to suppress any feelings that reveal a sense of powerlessness or vulnerability.
Perfectionism stemming from shame can also persuade you that you are not good enough. It encourages a need to compare yourself unfavorably and feel inadequate in multiple areas of your life; for example, you are never thin enough, pretty enough, rich enough, clever enough. Consequently, you may find it extremely difficult to be compassionate toward yourself, and instead to be critical. This perception is self-destructive and forms the basis of many personality disorders.
Connecting with Others
Just as it is normal to encounter emotions such as sadness or anger, so too can shame be a natural experience. Embarrassment and guilt can make you feel as if you are completely alone, but it’s much easier to deal with your issues if you allow yourself to connect with others.
Isolation is repressive. By stepping out and revealing you vulnerability you can actually put yourself in a position of strength. Admitting the truth, living transparently and showing a willingness to change can be empowering not only for yourself but for those around you.
Learning to Live Without Regrets
American composer and playwright Jonathon Larson said, “Forget regret, or life is yours to miss.” If you live a shame-filled existence, your focus is likely to be on what might have, could have, or should have been. This way you allow the past to define your present when it doesn’t have to.
Missed opportunities to say or do something can leave you empty and frustrated, disappointed and angry. But you can choose to embrace new opportunities and take risks despite being uncertain of the outcome. You can make a mistake and learn from it; it doesn’t always have to end in a guilt-ridden event that you carry around with you indefinitely.
There are no guarantees that life is going to go the way you want it to go, but when your environment is supportive and you have an acceptance of your imperfections, you minimize the impact of guilt and remorse.
Once you find the courage to stand against shame, whether it’s in your personal or business life, it will get easier to take risks. There is candor in being able to stumble and fall, rather than not try at all. And even though you may experience regret, it won’t last forever.
Confronting shame and striving to live a life without regrets does not mean a lack of accountability or avoiding responsibility. Rather it means that in addition to acknowledging a mistake, your psychological well-being is a deserved priority.
If the shame game is a controlling influence in your life then perhaps it’s time to reach out for some advice and treatment. Don’t delay in taking that first step to change your life or ignore the chance to find the freedom to live authentically. That would be a real shame.