Shame is the fear of displeasing men, when a man loves their good opinion more than he regards the judgemnet of God, which would make him humble himself in penitence."Man is the only animal that blushes. Or needs to." Mark Twain
"One of the most striking contradictions that I have come across as a therapist is the discrepancy between the centrality of the affect of shame in humans, and the lack of attention shame has received in the study and practice of psychology. In my own training, I was taught to attend to a wide range of feelings: anger, fear, sexuality, excitement, sadness, but rarely, if ever, the feeling of shame. Shame is also avoided in the "real" world as well. In fact, most of us feel shame about feeling shame. As a result shame is rarely acknowledged to others, or even to oneself. In the last five years I have been paying much more attention to shame in working with my clients, and am amazed at how crucial attending to this feeling is to doing psychotherapy. As with any feeling, when shame is denied it will only resurface to create even more pain and havoc.
Unfortunately, shame is often unbearable. For example humiliation and mortification, which are part of the "shame family of feelings" may be so painful they may lead to violence or suicide. We may equate shame with being worthless, unlovable, unredeemable, or cut-off from humanity. It may evoke other painful feelings, rage at the one we feel shamed by, or terror that we will be abandoned, fragmented and/or overwhelmed with despair. Silvan Tomkins (in Nathanson, 1992) said: If distress is the affect of suffering, shame is the affect of indignity, transgression and of alienation. Though terror speaks to life and death and distress makes of the world a vale of tears, yet shame strikes deepest into the heart of man.... shame is felt as inner torment, a sickness of the soul....the humiliated one feels himself naked, defeated, alienated, lacking in dignity and worth. Helen B. Lewis, a pioneer in recognizing the importance of shame to psychotherapy, argued that shame really represents an entire family of emotions. This family includes: humiliation, embarrassment, feelings of low self-esteem, belittlement, and stigmatization. Shame is often a central ingredient in experiences of being: Shame manifests itself physically in a wide variety of forms. The person may hide their eyes; lower their gaze; blush; bite their lips or tongue; present a forced smile; or fidget. Other responses may include annoyance, defensiveness, exaggeration or denial. Because the affect of shame often interferes with our ability to think, the individual may experience confusion, being at a loss for words, or a completely blank mind.
Shame is often experienced as the inner, critical voice that judges whatever we do as wrong, inferior, or worthless. Often this inner critical voice is repeating what was said to us by our parents, relatives, teachers and peers. We may have been told that we were naughty, selfish, ugly, stupid, etc. We may have been ostracized by peers at school, humiliated by teachers, treated with contempt by our parents. Paradoxically, shame may be caused by others expecting too much of us, evoking criticism when our performance is less than perfect. Some authority figures are never satisfied with one's efforts or performance, they are critical no matter what. Unfortunately, these criticisms become internalized, so that it is our own inner critical voice that is meting out the shaming messages, such as: "You idiot, why did you do that?," "Can't you do anything right?,"or " You should be ashamed of yourself," etc.
One source of shame is associated with the expression of certain emotions. In many families, as well as in many cultures, expression of such feelings as anger, fear, sadness or vulnerability, may be met with shaming reproaches, such as "Pull yourself together," "Don't be a baby," "Stop crying or I'll give you something to cry about," or "You don't have anything to be afraid of." Pride is also a feeling that is often met with shameful condemnations, such as "Who do you think you are, Mr. Bigshot?," or "You're getting too big for your britches." Often these shaming admonitions are internalized, so that when we get in touch with any of these "shameful feelings" we will automatically feel shame, and try to control or hide the feelings, or, at the very least, to apologize profusely for them. Clearly these shaming inner voices can do considerable damage to our self esteem. These self criticisms, that we are stupid, selfish, a show-off, etc., become, in varying degrees, how we see ourselves. For some of us, the inner critical judge is continuously providing a negative evaluation of what we are doing, moment-by-moment. As mentioned before, the inner critic may make it impossible for one to do anything right, telling you that you are too aggressive, or not aggressive enough, that you're too selfish, or that you let people walk all over you."
Abraham Maslow, the pioneering Third Force Psychologist, once wrote,
"The spiritual life is...part of the human essence. It is a defining characteristic of human nature....without which human nature is not full human nature"
From--"The Farther Reaches of Human Nature"
"What is spirituality? I believe it has to do with our lifestyle. I believe that life is ever unfolding and growing. So spirituality is about expansion and growth. It is about love, truth, goodness, beauty, giving and caring. Spirituality is about wholeness and completion. Spirituality is our ultimate human need. It pushes us to transcend ourselves, and to become grounded in the ultimate source of reality. Most call that source God.
Our healthy shame is essential as the ground of our spirituality. By signaling us of our essential limitations, our healthy shame lets us know that we are not God. Our healthy shame points us in the direction of some larger meaning. It lets us know that there is something or someone greater than ourselves. Our healthy shame is the psychological ground of our humility."