I spend a great deal of time working with people who have internalized shaming messages – mostly from childhood. Examples include “you’re stupid, you’re not worth it, you’ll never amount to anything. You can add your own to this list. Most of us carry around some dis-empowering beliefs. At our College we are engaged in an on-going battle to help students work through those old messages and replace them with healthier more positive ones. What about those individuals who have truly committed shameful acts? My former career involved working with criminals, sex offenders, and addicts. These individuals truly have something they are ashamed of. In a Wellness program designed for people coming out of prison, I noticed a young man who refused to smile or laugh. I asked him about this and he told me that he had killed someone and therefore didn’t deserve to feel joy. This presents an interesting dilemma. What happens to someone who will not allow themself to experience happiness? We do know that shame is one of the most painful emotions and people will avoid that feeling at all costs. These individuals will seek “relief” from this painful feeling – most often through substances or criminal activity. We then see a continuation of the cycle. My work involves assisting some of these people through their shame. We must use different techniques with these folks. They must find a way to “repair the damage”. Often the reparation will not be direct (they are not able to make amends to their victim), but to achieve a level of peace, we must face up to the damages (real or perceived) we have done. If you are a practicing therapist or coach, I believe you will see the wisdom in assisting people work through their shame to help them accept good things into their life.
By Bea Rhodes