Some of the most frustrating moments occur while we are frantically searching for something and then discover it has been right there in front of us the entire time. I’ve been guilty of looking for my sunglasses when they were perched on the top of my head. The only worse offense was looking for my cellphone while I was chatting with someone – on my cellphone!
Typically, when we look back at these frustrating situations, they tend to make us chuckle or perhaps shake our heads in bewilderment wondering how we could have been so oblivious to the obvious. “How could I have been so blind,” we may ask ourselves or at times, use harsher, more belittling terms.
But how often have we beaten ourselves up in these kinds of situations and that negativity ended up igniting a positive change? Ridiculing or denigrating ourselves is not an antidote for personal development. We don’t become a stronger, healthier individual by being malicious or vindictive to the person looking back at us in the mirror.
Why do we resort to this kind of self-bashing when we know it often creates more damage than good? Are there hidden reparations or atonements we believe this brutish behavior will fulfill? What kind of action can we take to change this demeanor and truly produce positive change?
We are often our own worse critics, which is not always a terrible thing. But self-criticism is a tool meant to help us improve. If we mistakenly believe this verbally punitive action shows modesty, humility, or some act of transformation, it is time to alter our views about how self-improvement works.
Self-degradation is mainly fuel for one of the most powerfully destructive emotions we humans face and that is none other than shame.
It is one of the first destructive emotions we humans face, often afflicting us before we learn to speak. It frequently lurks in plain sight but unlike our car keys or sunglasses, we may not realize the detrimental effects it has towards becoming a better version of ourselves.
When working with my clients, understanding shame and the undetected pitfalls it sets for us is one of the first steps in their healing journeys. Another important distinction is how it differs from guilt. While both are feelings we’d rather not experience, guilt is associated with making a bad choice or a wrong decision. Shame overlooks the action and makes us believe there is something wrong with us.
Guilt, if understood in context, can be a moral compass or a reminder to change future behavior. If we are going to have ill feelings about ourselves, guilt will focus on the situation and encourage opportunities for future improvement. Shame is nothing more than a continual reminder there is something terrible or appalling about us and is virtually impossible to fix.
There are cultural, familial, religious, and innate factors influencing how we react to shame, but it is often during childhood when the strongest impacts are made. Newborns are completely dependent on their parents or caretakers. This bond is something infants learn to trust and survival becomes impossible without it. The child develops a sense that whatever this person does is for their own good, and there is no reason to believe this person would do otherwise.
It’s no wonder when an adult reprimands an infant who may have just spit up on their clean shirt, the child may interpret that as something being wrong with them. Although there was never any shame intended, it is situations like these that cause children to feel shameful about themselves.
As children grow older, they face greater challenges from their friends, peers, and unfortunately, abusers. There are countless ways humans can find themselves in difficult circumstances that create or magnify their shame. Children, who are never taught self-belief or encouraged to have self-esteem, will tend to permanently skew their own self-perceptions and be shackled most of their lives by shame.
Ultimately, shame will cause damage and emotional wounds. And just as physical wounds need healing, so do the emotional ones. Sadly, those instigated by shame are often cemented into our psyches and for many people, seem impossible to heal. Some wrongly believe there will never be any sort of relief, hope, or peace.
There is no single bandage or medication we can put on those emotional pains, but that doesn’t mean they can’t heal. Remember, a bandage is not the answer for all injuries either. Emotional wounds vary in the same degrees and intensities as physical wounds. Eventually, healing is possible. Although some may require more intense assistance and therapy, it is possible to thrive from some of the most difficult situations imaginable.
The key is knowing that healing is possible. The final result may be different from what we believed it would be, but we cannot allow our past abuses to hold us hostage for the remainder of our lives. It is this firm belief that keeps me motivated and helping others heal from a life of shame-based thinking.
Next week we will discuss some of the various ways to heal from emotional wounds. For those of you who want to learn more, I have recently released a book that outlines several methods to assist you on your healing journey. More information can be found by clicking here. I am also available for one-on-one consultation. Feel free to reach out to me or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org