Working with clients and systems, I have the pleasure and challenge of sitting with people when they experience big feelings. The feeling that seems widely accepted as the most challenging, or in some cases the most dangerous, is anger. However, I strongly believe that the most challenging and the most impactful feeling that we have is shame. Underneath the anger, fear, and sadness is often shame, humiliation, or vulnerability.
Shame is a silencing feeling. Just by the nature of feeling ashamed we often do not speak of it. Inherent in shame is an internal cognitive process that tells us over and over that someone will judge us, or has judged us, or is judging us right at that exact moment. Shame is a tough one because the feeling in and of itself makes us feel like we can't share.
Shame is oppositional to healing because in order to move through it we will likely have to admit it. The healing and soothing is in someone else's response. In moments of shame what we need most is for someone else to say, "its ok," and gently love us anyway. Sharing and stating shame is in my mind more important than with any other feeling.
I have someone in my life that I love significantly that feels an intolerable amount of shame. So much so that whenever the well of shame is touched, in other words triggered, a swift response of seething anger arises and within seconds someone is the victim of a severe tongue lashing. I have witnessed this process countless times and wondered every time how much more gently this person could move forward if only he was able to say how ashamed and shamed he felt. But that is just the tricky trap of shame, the feeling makes you desire deflection, distraction, and destruction so that there is no light shone on the really dark part.
Whenever I am working with a client and he or she says to me, "I feel shame," or "that experience was shaming," or "you made me feel ashamed," I take a giant sigh of relief. Nothing is more liberating and healing at the same time than sharing those words. I remember the first time I admitted verbally to another person being ashamed of anything I had done, I was 31 years old. In case you are wondering, prior to 31 I had committed many acts that I was ashamed of and needed to admit to, and could not.
Over the last four years, I have tried my very hardest to allow myself to share my shame, even though to this day each and every time feels like an impossible risk. At the same time, I try each day to be a person that others feel comfortable sharing their shame with. Looking forward, I am hoping for a day when we as a culture have reduced the stigma and shame in admitting we are struggling with shame. When that happens, I can imagine we will no longer be ashamed.