Journeying Toward Wholeness

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I Don’t Want to Feel Ashamed… How Can I Find Freedom?

March 4th, 2019 · No Comments · to feel ashamed

To feel ashamed is to experience a primary form of human emotion — which is also one of the most difficult experiences in human life.

Shame is universal; all humans experience it.
Shame is a hard emotion to talk about, because, as many experts have noted, shame is highly motivated to hide itself: it doesn’t want to be seen. We should never underestimate the power of the connection between shame and anxiety. Shame has a very big role in our lives, even though we may keep the particular moments when we’ve experienced shame hidden, even from ourselves. In fact, we often particularly keep them hidden from ourselves. That’s how negatively potent shame can be.

What Feeling Ashamed Does to Us

Shame is a powerful emotion throughout our lives, but never more than when we are very young — such as in the second year of our life. This is the time when we first begin to encounter demands on ourselves related to bodily processes and toilet training.

If we get positive messages about the body and what it produces from parental figures, it’s going to enable us to feel competent and to value ourselves. However, if we get messages of shame, not measuring up, and generally devaluation of ourselves, we come to dislike ourselves and to not even see ourselves as autonomous — as able to do things for ourselves. Psychologist Erik Erikson labelled this the life stage of autonomy versus shame and doubt.

Experiences of shame can really corrode our sense of self, not only at this early life stage, but throughout our lives. Experiences of destructive shame can easily keep us from having any clear sense of ourselves and our own ability to take steps to get the things we want and need in life, especially in the course of major life transitions.

As family therapists Fossom and Mason put it, toxic shame is connected with the “violation and dimunition of personhood”. Genuinely shaming experiences stay with a person, often burned in memory. They can have a profound impact on us many years and decades after the original shaming experience. What is more, shame is associated with that part of ourselves that Jung referred to as the shadow.

To Feel Ashamed… of Our Shadow

Jung’s very concise definition of the shadow was “the thing a person has no wish to be”. He demonstrates that it contains, in Jungian analyst Andrew Samuels’ words,

the negative side of the personality, the sum of the unpleasant qualities one wants to hide, the inferior… and primitive side of man’s nature, the other person in one, one’s own dark side.

Critical Dictionary of Jungian Analysis

The shadow has a very important connection with the shame we feel in our lives, for, as Jung also notes,

Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is. If an inferiority is conscious, one always has a chance to correct it… But if it is repressed and isolated from consciousness, it never gets corrected, and is liable to burst forth suddenly in a moment of unawareness, At all counts, it forms an unconscious snag, thwarting our most well-meant intentions.

Collected Works, vol. 11

In our shadow, then, is basically everything about ourselves of which we are ashamed, and which we would rather not acknowledge.

Practically speaking, we can run from the shadow, but we can’t really hide. We encounter the shadow in those areas of our life in which we feel:

  • a sense of inadequacy or inferiority;
  • contact with parts of ourselves where we are less moral than we would like to appear;
  • awareness of those very things of which we feel most ashamed.

These things are the essence of shadow. We may live in denial about these things, and stay disconnected from our shame much of the time. Yet, ultimately we know it’s there, and we know that living in denial will only make things feel worse.

Real shame is often connected with intense pain. Is there any way to find some freedom from it?

Freedom Through Acceptance

Shame is something that all human beings experience. It’s in the nature of shame to make us feel that we are somehow separate or different from the rest of the human race. Yet, the experience of shame is a universal human thing. As many observers have pointed out, it’s easy to “feel ashamed of being ashamed”, but actually, every human being goes through the agony of feeling ashamed. That you and I experience shame shows that we are human.

If we can accept that we aren’t alone in our experience of shame, that it’s a human thing, then maybe we can stop defending ourselves so hard from our shame, and just be able to encounter the shadow, and begin to accept these aspects of ourselves. And the key lies in compassionate acceptance of the suffering being that feels compelled to feel ashamed — ourselves.

We can do this to some extent on our own, but a depth psychotherapy relationship where we can truly find acceptance can be of immense importance. Gradually being able to accept ourselves and release our shame in the context of a healing therapy relationship can be a key part of the journey towards wholeness.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

PHOTOS: Fr James Bradley (Creative Commons Licence)
© 2018 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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