In this three part series, we will look at where shame comes from, in human evolutionary history, and in personal development. There also are three quite powerful exercises in seeing through, releasing, and replacing (with worth) any feelings you may have along the shame spectrum.
The spectrum of feelings in the territory of shame include:
- Inadequacy – Sense of being unfit, useless, not up to the task, inferior, mediocre, worthlessness, less than, one down, devalued
- Humiliation – Embarrassment, disgrace, degradation, loss of face, slap in the face, comedown
- Guilt – I did something bad; [I know it]
- Shame – I am something bad; [they know it]
- Remorse – Contrition, regret over wrong-doing, feeling abashed, self-reproach, conscience-stricken
These are powerful, sometimes crippling, even lethal emotions (e.g., people killing themselves for the blemishes they think they placed on their family’s honor).
There is a place for healthy remorse in a moral person. But for most people, the shame spectrum of feelings is far too prominent in their psychology – typically not so much in terms of feeling chronic shame, but in terms of how they pull back from fully expressing themselves to avoid the awful experience of a shaming attack.
Why it’s worthwhile to feel worthy:
- Simple fairness
- Increases well-being
- Increases health: you are more likely to invest in medical care and good wellness practices if you feel you are worth caring for
- Builds the self-confidence that supports making the sustained efforts that lead to accomplishment – which creates positive cycles that build self-worth
- Helps others by (A) not being insecure and needing endless reassurance (can get annoying), and (B) frees internal attention and energy for being of benefit to them
The Opposite of Shame: Self-Worth
Let’s begin our journey at our destination, the sense of self-worth that is the opposite of shame. Its core elements include:
- A clear-eyed, reality-based seeing of the true mosaic of oneself: the strengths, the good intentions, the successes and accomplishments, the thousand small unrecognized daily deeds of goodness
- Self-respect, self-esteem
- Inherent sense of value as a person, with the right to be here just as you are
- Fundamental independence of external approval. As the 8th century Tibetan sage, Shantideva, said, “Why should I be pleased when people praise me? Others there will be who scorn and criticize. And why be despondent when I’m blamed, since there will be others who think well of me?”
- Ultimately, a sense of innermost being that transcends categories of shame or worth
In the days and weeks ahead, we encourage you to keep moving from shame to worth.
Exercise: “What’s A Good Quality You Have?”
You may need to be a little creative to do this exercise on your own, or even better, with a friend.
Here are the instructions for the exercise, which you can adapt freely:
A’s ask B’s these questions, or some variation on them:
What is a good quality you have?
What is a good thing you have done?
In response to the question, B’s find a succinct answer. It’s okay if A’s need to ask something for clarification, but mainly A’s listen.
Then A looks inside and tells B genuinely: I see __________ in you. Or: I believe __________ about you. A’s, only say what you sincerely think.
When A speaks, B’s focus on taking in the ordinary but vital experience of having a good quality or accomplishment seen by another person. Quick reminder: let a good event (A seeing that about you) become felt as a good experience. Have that good experience be big and strong in your mind and body, savor it and make it last. Get the sense of this good experience soaking into you, sinking into your body and mind, and becoming a part of you.
Then A ask the question again – What is a good quality you have? Or: What is a good thing you have done? – and repeat the process.
Editor’s Note: Rick Hanson’s incredible program The Foundations of Well-Being is starting its second year! This yearlong program uses science-based methods to hardwire more happiness into your brain and your life, and it’s currently on a great sale. Check it out through the link.