What Are Feelings?
Briefly, feelings, also known as our emotions and sensations, are not the same as thoughts, beliefs, interpretations, and convictions. Expressing intense or difficult feelings can soften their intensity, thus decreasing the hold they have on us, possibly even allowing us to let them go. Some people mistake expressing beliefs for feelings, using phrases such as “I feel that….” This is not an expression of feelings, but rather an articulation of a conviction or a personal truth.
Some feelings are easier than others to understand and recognize. One of the most difficult emotions has to do with a set of feelings known as shame.
What Is Shame?
Shame is a family of feelings that have to do with painful feelings of distress or suffering related to a disconnect in your self-view and your expectations. It is the critical self that judges our actions, thoughts, and beliefs as being wrong or worthless.
Shame is different from guilt. Guilt is a feeling that reflects an action you have taken. Shame reflects feelings of worthlessness about who you are as a person.
Shame can lead to many other feelings and experiences which are often unpleasant. According to Helen B. Lewis, who greatly studied shame, it is often the central component to the experiences of feeling alienated, inadequate, helpless, powerless, defenseless, or weak.
Additionally, these feelings lead to moments of social insecurity, in which a person may feel insecure, uncertain, or shy.
During moments of social insecurity, these feelings can lead to issues of self-esteem, such as feeling ineffectual, inferior, flawed, exposed, and unworthy.
If self-esteem becomes damaged because of these feelings, it may have larger-picture consequences, such as feeling hurt, intimidated, defeated, rejected, dumped, stupid, bizarre, odd, or different.
These feelings may be expressed in a variety of ways.
Physically, it is not uncommon for a person to flush, lower their eyes, or express nervous gestures such as biting lips or fidgeting; or they may force a smile.
Emotionally, a person may become angry, defensive, express denial, or become emotional.
Where Does Shame Come From?
Feelings of shame are generally developed by continual reinforcement from parents, family, peers, and others who consistently told us that we are bad, naughty, ugly, stupid, selfish, or not good enough. This may lead to social shyness and a belief that we are not good enough and that our thoughts and feelings don't matter.
Shame may also develop through someone holding you to too much expectation. This can lead to feelings of not doing enough or being good enough, particularly if performance is less than perfect. When we receive a lot of criticism, we begin to internalize these criticisms until we over-criticize ourselves.
Common critical and shameful beliefs include:
- I am not good enough.
- Why did you do that?
- Can't you do anything right?
- Don't be a baby.
Shame is also closely tied to invalidating experiences, particularly around feelings. If a person grows up in an environment in which he or she is not free to express certain emotions, such as crying, that person may begin to feel shame associated with feelings and try to hide or control them.
How To Defeat Shame:
While shame may be very difficult to combat, there are ways of breaking shame feelings down.
- STOP the negative self-talk.
- Find people who love and accept you for who you are.
- Talk to a therapist.
- Build confidence by finding activities and ways to contribute that make you feel good.
- Set realistic goals and expectations.
- Ask for what you need or want.
- No apologies for who you are!
Additional Shame Resources:
Marc D. Miller conducted extensive research on the topic of shame.
Emotional Competency has an intellectual look at shame.
Joseph Burgo's provides a description of shame, including where it comes from and how it manifests, and a video with more information about shame.