Have you ever thought about what shame is and how it could be affecting your life by limiting your self-worth?
Shame is a tactic that has been used for centuries as a way to protect and control tribe members. In ancient times, tribes lived in enclosures known as pales. As long as members stayed in the enclosed area, they were protected. But once members stepped “beyond the pale,” the tribe would no longer protect them, and would wound them through abandonment, betrayal, or shame. Many religious leaders control their communities through shame.
In much the same way, shame is used by families. It is passed down from generation to generation and most of us carry shame around for a long time before we even realize it. Shame can originate from something big, such as sexual abuse. But, it can also originate from something seemingly small, such as a passing comment.
And, many families have implied rules that are unspoken. As a child you probably learned about these rules for the first time when you crossed a line that you never knew existed and were subsequently shamed. The well-studied alcoholic family system is a great example of this.
The truth is virtually no one can live past the age of 12 without having been shamed about something. If you have ever felt ashamed of your social status, your body size, or your age it is likely that shame originated from your family. Living with shame can deeply hurt your sense of self-worth. In fact, it can effect your life on many levels, including your health.
What Happens When You Carry Around Your Shame?
When you are shamed as a child, that shame becomes internalized into a lack of self-worth. Unlike guilt, which is the feeling of doing something wrong, shame is the feeling of being something wrong. It is that voice that says “I am not good enough.”
You end up believing that you are flawed and unworthy of the connection you so desperately seek. This often causes an insatiable need for approval from others and a need to feel like you belong.
Bonding from a place of shame can make you physically and emotionally ill. For one thing, bonding with others over the parts of yourself that you feel ashamed of puts you in victimhood. If you bond while in victim-mode, you will tend to bond with other victims who validate how much you’ve suffered and how hard it must have been for you. After a while, these relationships backfire leading to deeper feelings of self-hatred and even self-abuse.
Boys who have been shamed tend to act out in anger. Girls tend to turn their shame inward, becoming more introverted. Narcissists often have shame at the core of their self-inflated behavior and will deflect their shame by devaluing or attacking others. Another pattern that shame can induce is avoidance. In addition, many violent behaviors can have shame as a root cause.
How Shame Affects Your Health
Aside from that queasy feeling in your stomach or that knee-jerk reaction that makes you want to hide, shame can be at the core of many physical and emotional illnesses, including
• Eating disorders
• Perfectionism and other compulsive behaviors
• Chronic pain
• Digestive issues
• Social phobias.
A study by Jean M. Lamont, a researcher at Bucknell University, showed that women who have felt body-shame tend to experience more infections and symptoms, and experience lower levels of health in general.
Another study showed that feelings of shame increased pro-inflammatory cytokines, a marker for inflammation and disease. The people who felt the most shame had the highest elevation of cytokine activity.
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Much love and light always, Leona