One of the most distinct memories in my life was returning home from a 10k shopping spree with a sugar daddy at Bergdof Goodman Department store in Las Vegas. As I gazed around my space, I realized I had everything I thought I wanted my entire life. I had the designer items, the ‘perfect body’, a lavish apartment on the Las Vegas strip, and a brand new white Audi TT convertible- yet I was bloody miserable. I didn’t believe I had any reason for existing- I felt fundamentally defective and worthless. I got on my knees screaming and sobbing, ‘If there is anything out there, please, please this cannot be the good life. There has to be more inside of me than this. Please kill me or show me why I am here.’ From this moment on a miraculous chain of events unfolded which helped me unpack and heal the chronic shame I experienced my entire life. I was well on my way to fulfill my soul’s mission!
Shame is the feeling of being defective, unlovable, unworthy, and inadequate. Good ol shame travels back way back to the creation myth of Adam and Eve: ‘I ate the apple, therefore I am bad.’ Shame is a primitive, intelligent, and fluid emotion all humans experience, which comes and goes. Chronic shame on the other hand is a self-absorbing state of being where one has difficulty seeing themselves any other way than the shame.
Chronic shame is what led me to believe my body and appearance was the measure of my worth and purpose. It insidiously crept its way into the driver seat and convinced me I had no gifts of talents. It is what caused me several suicidal attempts. It is what led to alcoholism and an eating disorder. It is also what catalyzed me to live a life beyond my wildest dreams. While chronic shame is a disorganizing, disheartening, and dreadful experience- there are hidden messages and wisdom within it if you so choose to investigate and listen.
You might be wondering where in the world does shame actually come from? If you feel like you suffer with chronic shame you might be thinking how in the world did I become this way?
Shame is the primary ‘social emotion’ because it relates our sense of self in context of relationship with others. The “self-in-the-eyes-of-the-other” is at the center of shame- “I am as I am seen”.(Johnson) When someone struggles with chronic shame they don’t have a solid foundation of self. They typically look out to the world to validate them and build themselves up. That is why it can feel earth shattering when chronic shame sufferers don’t live up to an idealized image they hold of themselves when they are in connection with others. The reason the individual is yearning for others to reflect back their worth is because they didn’t receive the attention they required in their earliest stages of development. Shame is one of the core wounds of infantile development and something called ‘attachment theory’.
Attachment theory originated from the works of psychologist John Bowlby. This theory describes how the interpersonal relationship between the mother / caregiver impacts our relational capacity throughout the rest of our life and our ability to relate to ourselves. “It is a psychological concept that explains that humans learn relationship patterns starting at birth based on consistent emotional attunement, responsiveness, and empathy of primary caregivers, quite simply, how your parents interacted with you in emotional, non-verbal ways when you were very young is the origin of emotional wellbeing.”(Johnson)There are four primary styles of attachment : secure, insecure avoidant, insecure ambivalent / anxious, and insecure disorganized.
Infants come into this world as a fresh slate. They require to be taken care of in order to develop a sense of safety and security. The way their caregiver responds to them is a direct reflection of what they learn to believe about themselves. If they are responsive then they believe ‘I am good, I am worthy of getting my needs taken care of.’ When the young child’s needs are not met he always assumes there is something wrong with him, not his parents. He falls into shame (Karen, 2001). Their caregiver is their model demonstrating how to cultivate self worth.
An infant does not know how to self-regulate, the care givers also must model this. Regulation is essential for congruence within the self. When there isn’t regulation one becomes absorbed into the overall state of emotion, or discongruence. Caregivers have a major role in regulating a child’s emotional state. In order for optimal alertness and positive affect to develop (Positive affect is a regulated state of being or emotion) , the caregiver must be able to provide affective communication that is in line with the emotional state of the child (Schore, 1996).if the child is experiencing a non- optimal hyper-aroused state, the caregiver must accurately reflect the child’s experience while balancing the affect by modeling a more optimal response (Schore, 1994). Through this attunement, the child develops the expectation of shared positive affect (aka worthiness ) with the caregiver.”(Johnson)Chronic shame develops because regulation isn’t modeled. The child grows up having no discernment that the ‘defective’ state isn’t actually who they are.
Developing a strong sense of Self and learning how to attune to one’s emotions is essential in healing chronic shame. While our sense of self worth is dependent upon our interpersonal relationship with our caregivers during our earliest years, it becomes our responsibility as an adult reprogram our subconscious. This is not easy work. It requires commitment, determination, and incredible amounts of self-compassion. Chronic shame can be very challenging to work with because of it’s hiijaking self absorbing black hole not fun nature.
My greatest suggestion to begin the process of healing chronic shame is: Commit to meditation and spiritual connection.
Meditation is the training ground to see self differently and cultivate greater awareness. Centering in the witnessing consciousness creates spaciousness to notice how emotional states are fleeting, not actually solid states of being. The more consistent one is in training, the more capacity they have to relate to themselves as the mature observer rather than the fleeting states. Through dedication one can shift identities and shower the shameful states with acceptance- attention and acceptance.
Meditation helps one come into secure relationship with themselves because it is a practice of emotionally attuning to raw subtle energetics. Many caregivers aren’t able to offer their child emotional attunement because they aren’t attuned to themselves.. Shame is really just a young child within-yearning to be held with loving caring awareness. As you reparent the shame and treat it as crying infant, it begins to loose it’s charge and the sense of Self is strengthened.
Another practice that has been essential in my process of healing chronic shame is prayer and connection to spirit guides/ goddess/ deities. I could not see myself clearly and had no idea who I was. I didn’t know how to relate to myself differently because there was no context of what else was inside of me. I prayed every day to my higher power, ‘Please help me see myself differently, please help me see myself as you see me.’I trained myself to believe in my Divinity and trust that the same seeds of light in Mother Theresa, Jesus, or Martin Luther King were also within myself. I had mentors, teachers, and models in my life who modeled the qualities I wished to embody, they reminded me what was within. I also began connecting with goddess archetypes- which helped me awaken dormant sovereign wholehearted seeds. Through this process, I remembered. Through this process, I saw myself differently. It is a daily practice and takes constant watering.
Healing chronic shame may feel daunting or ‘impossible’, but believe me, if I could become who I am today, anything is possible! I hated myself and believed I had nothing to offer to the world. I fell in love with my higher power and realized my gift was devotion. My gift was surrendering and allowing a greater intelligence to use my vessel for collective healing. Through the process of surrender, I discovered my hidden authenticity and brilliance.
If shame is activated through relationship with our caregivers it can also be unpacked through conscious relationship with self, higher power, and others. It can be soothed and regulated through becoming your own caregiver to your inner child- aka reparenting. The cosmic caregiver, aka higher power, will bust through the myth of unworthiness. It will teach you your unlimited potential. Chronic shame is unraveled and held in the containment of professional help with a mentor or therapist- it is essential to have a guide in this healing journey. Remember, chronic shame is not a death sentence. It is an holy initiation to surrender to your soul mission and remember more of who you really are. It becomes your gift, super power, and purpose as you work through it.
If you are struggling with chronic shame, I feel your pain and see you. I have been there and would be honored to guide you through the way out. It truly is essential to receive professional help when working through chronic shame, we can’t do this alone. I am offering complimentary discovery calls for my Thrive in Recovery Mentorship Program. Please send me an email or direct message on social media to set up a call if this feels in alignment!
Johnson, A. (2006). Healing Shame. The Humanistic Psychologist, 34(2), 223-242. doi:10.1207/thp.2006.34.issue-2