The Shame Trap

Shame is an insidious thing. Much of the time, we’re unaware we’re carrying shame, because it’s become so internalized and unconscious. But holding on to shame is a trap; it keeps us from moving forward into our joy. In some cases, it may even be a pathway to physical illness.

Although I’ve discarded much of what I learned in my Freudian training, I’ve found there’s a lot of truth in the developmental stages Freud identified. Shame is associated with the age period of three to six years old, a time when we begin to repress many of our impulses in order to comply with the expectations of the adults around us. If you’ve had children in your life, you know this is an age when they are easily embarrassed. You may even remember from your own childhood times you felt deeply embarrassed or humiliated.

Unfortunately, many adults still use shame as a way of socializing children. Their intentions may be for the ultimate good of the child, but shaming a child creates wounds in his psyche and his heart. Because we tend to push shame underground, below our awareness, we may forget it’s there, and never heal that wound.

I’ve noticed there is often a great deal of shame around the shape of our bodies. People who carry extra weight are frequently deeply ashamed. People who are thinner than average may be ashamed of the way their bones are visible. Eating in secret, binging, purging and anorexia are sources of deep shame for many people.

There is often shame around money, because our culture tends to define success in terms of money. Many people I know have suffered a loss of money and status through this economic downturn, and they feel a great deal of shame. Some people who are doing well financially are ashamed of that, and in fact they may be attracting some kind of loss because of that inner conflict. Couples who want children and are unable to have them often experience shame.

When we feel “different” in any way, we may be ashamed. That’s partly because of how we are socialized into our culture, but also because human beings are naturally wired to want to be part of the group. We want to belong, and often we get an early message that being unique separates us from other people.

As we get older and smarter, many of us begin to embrace our uniqueness. We begin to realize the advantages of being a little different. But underneath, we may still be dealing with some level of shame. And shame blocks our good from coming to us.

When we want something in our lives, whether it’s losing or gaining weight, or increased financial well-being, a happy romantic relationship or more friends, we need to have all our energy flowing in the same direction – toward that desired outcome. Shame blocks that energy. That is the shame trap.

Spend some time alone with yourself, perhaps last thing before you go to sleep, or first thing when you wake up. That’s the time you may be in an alpha brainwave pattern, so that you can access your deeper feelings. If you meditate, use your meditation time. Identify any areas where you are holding on to shame. Most of us are, by the way, even those of us who have done a lot of work on ourselves.

See that little child you used to be, the innocent child who still lives inside you. See yourself holding him or her in your arms, encouraging her to let go of any feelings of not being enough, of being ashamed or embarrassed. Write an affirmation that feels good to you, and say that a few times every morning and every night. Here’s one you might enjoy:

“My mind and my heart are filled with Divine love. I feel love flowing through me, and I release any feelings, conscious or unconscious, that are less than complete love. I have a deep knowing that I am loved by God, and more and more everyday, I love myself and accept myself unconditionally.”

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