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The Impact of Shame

Jonathan Riley

“Happiness is a risk. If you’re not a little scared, then you’re not doing it right.” – Sarah Addison

Shame is a powerful emotion that has the potential to shape peoples’ lives in significant ways. Shame is so powerful that it can impact the whole trajectory of a person’s life. Because of shame’s power, it is important to understand the specific impact it has on people. In addition, it is important to consider the way out of shame.

Here are 12 ways shame shapes peoples’ lives.

1. People who live with shame often avoid relationships, vulnerability, and community. Research shows that shame causes people to hide and conceal themselves; as a result, people who are ashamed withdraw from their community and friendships. They avoid vulnerability and never share their true selves with the world.

2. People who live with shame are prone to suppressing their emotions. For example, people who feel ashamed of themselves or ashamed of something that happened to them often keep their thoughts and feelings wrapped up inside.

3. People who live with shame often feel worthless, depressed, and anxious. Shame can contribute to depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem. People who are constantly ashamed live out a complex emotional and mental battle each and every day.

4. People who live with shame are less likely to take healthy risks. Shame prevents individuals from making choices that would cause others to devalue them, as a result, they avoid taking healthy risks. People struggling with shame tend to make choices that they feel certain will end well.

5. People who live with shame are more likely to relapse back into problem behaviours. Research shows that people who struggle with addiction are more likely to relapse if they experience shame. People who are ashamed believe that change or healing is not possible. Shame can be the reason people choose not to take steps toward healing.

6. People who live with shame struggle with perfectionism. Perfectionism involves putting pressure on ourselves to meet high standards, which greatly impacts how we think of ourselves. Shame based people don’t believe in unconditional love, expecting others’ affection and approval to be conditional on them being perfect.

7. People who live with shame are overly critical of themselves and others. Shame based people see little of value in themselves, so they tend to criticize others to make themselves feel better about their current state or circumstance, when really those judgements are insecurities in them.

8. People who live with shame struggle with self-sabotaging behaviours. Shame based people tend to concentrate constantly on the worst that might possibly arise, such as a new project that results in failure or a new relationship that ends in pain. In the end, shame-based people feel more sad and fearful, and their shame is further reinforced.

9. People who live with shame struggle to be around other people. People who struggle with shame are often on the lookout for any signs of disapproval from others. As a result, they choose loneliness and isolation instead of risking connecting to other people.

10. People who live with shame struggle with feelings of inadequacy and sensitivity to rejection and criticism. Rejection can be emotionally devastating because it can make shame-based people feel as if they are not wanted, valued, or accepted.

11. Another common way people react to shame is by feeling anger. People often find it easier to blame someone else than to think they may have done something wrong, and the anger helps them mitigate their own feelings of shame.

12. People who live with shame struggle with addictive behaviour. Many people who feel shame use alcohol, drugs, food, sex etc. to give them temporary relief from the negative feelings of shame. However, the more they use addictive behaviour to feel better, the more shame they feel, therefore creating a vicious cycle.

Finally, it is argued that because shame is linked to one’s core identity, it is among the most powerful and significant emotions. In a moment of shame, one feels flawed or inferior and feels as though others can see this also. As a result, shame is linked not only to one’s identity but also to social bonds. Shame can threaten one’s feelings of belonging and acceptance.

In part 3, we will look at The Difference Between Shame And Guilt, And Why It Matters


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