‘Life’ means: to grow, first physically, then emotionally and spiritually and finally spiritually. ‘Grow’ means to live all that you are.
While shame for infants and children is useful and therefore important, chronic shame for adults is a prison.
Shame becomes chronic when:
• a child is not seen as who he really is, or when he is ashamed, or even experiences physical violence;
• a child is not given the opportunity to experience regulated states of his nervous system;
• submission is the only way to survive socially and physically.
Chronic shame is a condition where:
• people somehow make themselves small, contract, cramp;
• people constantly judge themselves;
• people experience chronic unrest;
• numb or disable newer brain areas, making older (more primitive) ones active.
The consequences of chronic shame
Shame makes (temporarily) stupid
Depending on the degree to which you feel ashamed, you will not be able to speak in that state, and you will also feel stupid. There is simply nothing that comes to mind. Brain scans show that in people who think back to an embarrassing situation, part of the cerebrum functions less or is completely switched off, namely the part that serves for thinking and formulating sentences.
Think about the consequences that shame has for children at school. This reaction of the human organism also explains why people stay in embarrassing situations instead of leaving them.
Shame makes you sick
The psychologist Sally Dickerson of Pace University in New York showed in a study that a higher dose of the signal substance tumor necrosis factor (TNF-α) is emitted during the shame response. This signal substance is found in inflammation and is a reliable indication of inflammation in the human body. TNF-α evokes the classic symptoms of inflammation: heat, swelling, redness and pain. TNF-α suppresses appetite and increases stress. The participants in Dickerson’s study showed a significant increase in saliva TNF-α levels after only 15 minutes of embarrassing memory. As with an infection, they felt weak and ‘paralyzed’.
Now this and other studies from Shame do not yet prove that shame makes you sick. But they do indicate which dynamics are set in motion in the organism. And from my own experience and from the guidance of many clients I can add: people who free themselves from shame feel better in their body, are more loving towards their body and treat it with more attention. Digestion improves, as does the tone and expression of the face, and the whole body gets a better radiance. These people function more lively and have more energy.
Shame puts the body under intense tension
Studies show that in potentially embarrassing situations, for example a public performance, the hormone balance changes. The cortisol level in the blood rises. Higher cortisol levels are associated with the following diseases: osteoporosis, severe musculoskeletal deterioration, fat accumulation in the trunk, high blood pressure, connective tissue weakness, delayed wound healing, stomach ulcers, diabetes and oedema.
Moreover, our self-images seem to have consequences in the sense of self-fulfilling prophecies. Because they influence the body’s own biology, people who undergo surgery with a positive expectation have a significantly better body condition after surgery than people with a negative expectation.
Chronic shame has even more consequences:
- Shame is a form of self-aggression
- Shame reduces resistance.
- A person with shame suffers from a feeling of being overwhelmed, of inferiority and chronic stress.
- He or she believes that there is something wrong with himself, when all people are perfect.
- He or she develops strategies to avoid feeling his own shame.
- He or she submits, settles for bad and underpaid jobs, and gets stuck in relationships that aren’t really nourishing or even hurtful.
- Shame limits options, because you orient yourself on the outside world and not on yourself, on the wishes and needs of others, instead of your own.
It is then as if someone has to maneuver through life with outdated map data and is surprised that he is constantly running into a wall. Strictly speaking, it is very easy to get rid of chronic shame; you just need to refresh the old card data. That is, if you have integrated misinformation about yourself into your self-image, it is enough to get in touch with your true self. That requires you to face the way you have lived and experienced yourself thus far. That is usually not so easy.
Exercise: How do I shame myself?
Awareness is the first and most important step for many problems. The solution cannot present itself without awareness. That is why it is important to become aware of your feelings of shame. This exercise will help you:
- Pick out a few self-assessments that you’ve established in yourself and write them down individually on a piece of paper.
- Sit back for a moment to become observant.
- Recall in your memory someone very familiar to you, someone you really appreciate or even love. Now mentally blame him for the written self-judgments, for example: ‘You are worth nothing. You have no right to live, you are the most unpleasant person I know. No wonder no one wants anything to do with you.’
- How does that feel? Observe your reactions on every level, so physically, emotionally, emotionally and in energy. How does it feel to address sentences like this to someone else? Please take the time to examine this in detail. Only when you have really developed a feeling about this can you take the next step.
- Become aware that you are constantly directing these judgments against yourself. Then you will get a better impression of what these words do in your soul and your nervous system. Observe that.
- How has your posture changed? Are you more slumped? Or are you more upright now? Do you experience sitting now as more strenuous than before or as easier?
- And what do you think of yourself now? Are you blaming yourself? Or are you full of compassion? Do you understand yourself, or are you horrified at yourself? Write it all down without adding or leaving anything out.
- Finally, when you are ready to end the investigation, think of someone who is well-disposed toward you and let their gaze settle on you until you notice that things get a little easier and you feel better and more comfortable.