Some questions to consider from a conference on Shame

Shame is a primary emotion and therefore is something that we will all be familiar with experiencing it. Shame has an adaptive pro-social function so its not about eliminating all experiences of shame, but identifying if and where we experience toxic/chronic shame.

Q. What was your earliest experience of shame? and how do you feel you adapted your future behaviours as a result of this? Often compensatory behaviour occurs as a result of shame – for example if you can’t read and write, but have physicality then you may compensate with violence  Or if you feel a lot of shame about your body or sexuality you may disguise this by being hypersexual. Can you think of any compensatory behaviour that you may display born out of shame?

Parents use adaptive shame, but if this is too extreme then it can develop into chronic shame. Q. How do your parents use shame?

Some examples that shame-based families will experience are: disapproval of spontaneity, rigid expectations of behaviours, shame linked to curiosity (for asking questions etc), fault-blame focused families (most vulnerable child is scapegoated and carries all the fault and blame of the whole family), suppression and invalidation of feelings and needs, constant comparisons to others, lack of affect regulation (told how you should be feeling and sex, drugs, food, alcohol relied on to manage feelings with expression of feelings being deemed as too needy, involved, wet etc), objectification (where children are an accessory for image of family, not accepted in their own unique being), lies and reality invalidated and unrealistic expectations.

Q. What kind of shame is in your family? Has shame linked to certain areas been passed down your family tree? Does your culture instill shame over certain behaviours/values/experiences?

Shame is often a feeling of being less than an ideal/norm and linked to feelings of inclusion/exclusion. Where do you transgress social norms that you feel self-conscious about?

Q. What defences against shame do you use, with whom and in what situations? For example you may withdraw, become self-reliant, become appeasing, perfectionistic, or be grandiose or attach other. You may self-shame and blame or split off certain aspects of yourself and develop social v private self.

Q. What is your non-verbal communication when you experience shame? How does your posture change?

Exercise – write down the word ‘SHAME’ and then write down every word, experience, visual image, person, sensation that comes to mind when you think of ‘shame’.

Exercise – make a pie chart and identify the key areas that you hold shame. Here are some examples to get you started:

Cognition – Shame around lack of academic achievement, reading, bizarre ways of thinking, presenting, game playing, memory games

Body – disability, physique and how fits the norm, weight – thin shaming – depends on cultures and friends, shape of body with current norm (neutral or curvy or muscular)

Sense of self – vulnerability not acceptable, emotions not acceptable, shyness, posture, handshake/wave, what emotions are deemed acceptable or not

Sexuality – orientation, performance, STIs, virginity, puberty, mutilation, termination, circumcision or not, submission/dominance, promiscuity, preferences like BDSM/fetishes  How was your sexual script formed?

Relationship – dependence v independence, fear of abandonment and shame if have been left, parenting with emphasis to be perfect

Beliefs – religious, values – Brexit and potential beliefs (eg. Academic seen as non-Brexit and uneducated as Brexit)

Ageing – loss of potency, agency, less sharp, physical change, increasingly invisible especially as a woman, hair loss

As i searched for these images linked to shame it made me realise how particular emotions can also be very linked to shame and particular images and colours are attached to it. What image from your own life, or more generally would encapsulate your understanding of or the core of  the shame you feel?

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