Where Shame Comes From

Shame tells us that we are not worthy nor good enough. Shame can fuel unhealthy relationships with substances or behaviours as it can be so uncomfortable that the brain feels it has no choice but to seek escape and relief from it. Many people are aware of shame in their lives and exploring how to leave it behind, with authors like Brene Brown leading the charge on exploring resilience and vulnerability as antidotes. This still leaves a question lingering of where does shame come from?

In this paragraph you may now expect I am going to start writing about childhood trauma, messaging we receive from our guardians and society that perpetuates shame. True, these things have a huge impact on shame and its lifespan, but what I want to focus on is another part of where shame comes from and how it gets sustained: The story.

What does that mean? The story? What I mean by this is that we all have constant narratives in our minds. These narratives coach us through how to do certain things, can inspire self-worth and confidence, but they can also support shame. For example, if I’m going through my day telling myself how stupid I am, how I failed at that last task, wondering how others are judging me, this is my shame story. I am not going to come out of that story feeling empowered, confident, and compassionate. So a big part of where shame comes from is the stories in our head. True, these may be informed by family messaging, childhood trauma, and other places but, at the end of the day, it is still our brain internalizing aspects of these messages, perhaps even distorting the message entirely, to perpetuate that shame story.

Does this mean that shame is not real? No, the experience of shame is very real and feels profound and uncomfortable for everyone who carries it. What it does mean, though, is that the story supporting the shame may not be as real or truthful as we think.

What can we do about this? Explore the story, pay attention to how your brain talks to you about yourself and start to look at the evidence. Is the story true? Necessary? Kind? Realistic? If any of the answers to these questions are no, then the story can start to be rewritten using language and data that is real. This can help one move away from drowning in the shame story and being able to live a more comfortable, confident life.

By Paige Abbott, Registered Psychologist at www.holisticpsychologycalgary.com