by Judith Albright
How many times have you heard someone say, “Shame on you!” or, “You should be ashamed of yourself”? Maybe you heard these words yourself when you were growing up. For countless years, adults have used guilt and shame to control children and keep them in line. Unfortunately this is still happening today and is being passed on to yet another generation. The effects, both then and now, are long-lasting and destructive. Being shamed as a child often creates a lifelong negative belief that one is a “bad” person, somehow flawed and not good enough. When we believe this, the basic needs of our inner child remain unmet. The result is a chronic state of anxiety, fear, shame, anger, emotional isolation and despair that can follow us into adulthood.
When the adults in our life can’t be counted on to provide love, support and safety, we may continue to grow physically, but a part of our emotional growth and development either slows down or is arrested. During childhood (and as adults too) we are easily wounded by constant shaming, criticism, judgment and rejection. In an attempt to protect ourselves from being hurt again, we start squelching our natural tendencies to be open, loving and trusting. We build walls around our vulnerable inner child. Our self-esteem and sense of worth plummets. Author and therapist John Bradshaw states that when the inner child is left alone, unrecognized, unloved and therefore unhealed a person will inevitably contaminate his or her life as an adult. Many recurring emotional problems in adulthood, including bullying, substance abuse and addiction, are an indication that the wounded inner child is still scared and searching for comfort.
According to clinical psychologist Gershen Kaufman, “Shame is the most destructive of human emotions.” And yet it’s universal. Psychotherapist and author Beverly Engel agrees, and goes one step further by stating that shame is the core issue of addiction and is often the underlying cause of other serious issues such as suicide and depression.
Shame is often confused with guilt; what is the difference? According to Webster’s Dictionary, shame is “a condition of humiliating disgrace or disrepute.” Shame is a deep feeling of personal unworthiness and inadequacy. It has been described as the distress people feel when they fail to live up to the expectations of others, or the remorse and/or humiliation they feel when they think they have done something inexcusable or have let others down. Conversely, guilt is feeling badly about something we did wrong or neglected to do, for which our conscience bothers us.
Are you still being controlled and kept in line with guilt and shame? If so, you have been a prisoner long enough. It is time to break the pattern. Now that consciousness throughout the world is shifting, more and more people are determined to cast off the weight of shame that has been passed from generation to generation. Allow yourself to be among them. Now is the time to reclaim your power and stop defining yourself by other people’s opinions. Did you ever consider that those who judged you so harshly might be wrong? Did you ever think that the issues used to shame you might belong to your accusers and not you? Isn’t it time to stop giving these people free rent in your head?
How might you do this? Start thinking of shame as an old tattered coat that is worn out and needs to be discarded. Stop re-hashing past events — let them go. Stop focusing on yourself and your perceived inadequacies and start looking for ways you can be of service to others. You can pay it forward or fill a need wherever you see one. Always be kind. When you can see the visible results of your efforts and feel good about what you are doing and how you are living, there is little time or place for shame. Let 2016 be the year you come into your own and allow yourself to be the person you were intended to be.