Moving in Shame – Unhealthy Ways we Cope with Self-Worth Injuries

Moving in Shame - I relate to this little toy soldier wearing armor and wielding a weapon

Three years ago I read Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly, in which she shares her research, revealing shame as a universally-felt emotion.

I define shame as the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection. -Brené Brown

For as long as I can recall, I have been operating in the belief that I am bad, wrong, and therefor, separate. Daring Greatly changed my life because it gave a name to my struggle- shame. I gots it! And it makes sense that I do, because I, like most of us, carry a list of self-worth injuries and abuse in my pocket.

Linda Hartling, relational-cultural theorist, says we use three strategies when feeling shame. Do any of these sound familiar? They do to me! Here we go-

  1. Moving Away– withdrawing, hiding secrets.
    I know I’m moving away from shame when I delete my online posts, and when I go to the bathroom, lock the door, sit on the floor, and sob, while stories of worthlessness shout in my mind. This is my shame spiral, and it can lead to self-harm. It just isn’t something I want to experience anymore.
  2. Moving Toward– people pleasing, seeking to appease.
    I know I’m moving toward shame when I feel like a circus animal, working to avoid a whip and earn a reward. I’ll jump through hoops, speak higher in pitch, move tightly and quickly, and worst of all, I align myself with whoever is shaming me. My most clear memory of this behavior is when I was little, and kids bullied me. Childhood reasoning told me their taunting would hurt less if I beat them to the punch. I began to hunch my shoulders and lower my face. I told myself I was less-than. When kids approached me on the playground and called me ugly, stupid, and gross, I would laugh, and say, “I know I am.” I felt so sad typing that. I strive to lay down the self-deprecation I used to protect myself in childhood.
  3. Moving Against– striking back, lashing out, using shame to fight shame.
    This is the strategy I use when I feel threatened in certain ways, like when people point out my mistakes. I armor up, snarl a bit, and prepare to use the other person’s faults against them. I usually don’t speak what I’m thinking, but I’m imagining it! And feeling satisfaction from doing so! Offloading shame can feel good, but it doesn’t allow connection, and it doesn’t line up with my values.

Learning about shame, and pondering the ways I operate in it, helps me live a resilient and nonviolent lifestyle. I recognize and name this painful emotion, notice how I’m responding to it, then look for healthier ways to cope.

One healthy way to cope with shame is to practice the three elements of self-compassion. I want to move in self-compassion rather than the three damaging activities listed above. I’ll continue working on it!

Thanks for reading. Take care. <3

2 Replies to “Moving in Shame – Unhealthy Ways we Cope with Self-Worth Injuries”

  1. I’m so glad you’re working through it. A lot of the current science points to shame being one of the most hard wired emotions. We all come with the shame button and setting, trauma just makes it a quicker deeper trigger. Just remember shame is pretty much an automated process, we can only gain insight and retrain, we can’t directly control each press of the button.

    I actually wrote a bit on this, more the brain mechanisms behind our base emotions as a whole, and I hope you find it helpful. I know I find the biology of this stuff comforting, it relieves the shame by helping me know where I actually have control. It should not be very triggering, unless you hate honey badgers 😉

    I’ve been dealing with this in a new way, with my health. It’s not a fun place to end up in. I’m glad you’re working out of it.

    Also, definitely when you get a chance shoot me a message however you want, I have a few prospective projects that I think you’d dig. I’m thinking of a centralized place to link up our best entries (like a magazine), and a private blogger network for when we’re down and out. When I’m in ruts I want to reach out, but I don’t want to post to the world. Also, when I’m down and out with the speed of twitter etc it feels like I disappear. If there is interest I want to create a stop gap. A central place where our best stuff is gathers, and a private place where we can just be ourselves on the bad days (in my case sometimes months!).

    Wishing you the best, your ongoing insight into you, and how you work yourself out is always inspiring.

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