Shame is a common emotion – we all feel it. Shame feels terrible and can often accompany feelings of depression or worthlessness. It is important to understand the function of shame so that you can use it appropriately and move forward. If you don't know how to deal with shame in a healthy way you may find that you feel shameful quite often.
Our minds develop tools for helping us to survive, to achieve goals, and to become the person that we want to be. Shame is one of these tools. Our mind intentionally uses shame to punish behavior that it wishes not to repeat.
Stop thinking of yourself as a single person, that will only confuse you. Instead, think of yourself as at least two different people, a conscious person and a subconscious person. The conscious person is the person that you can control and that you are aware of. The subconscious person is the deep feelings, and mechanisms within yourself that are hard to locate but are certainly there. This includes feelings, deep seeded beliefs, personality, and bodily functions such as breathing.
While it can seem like we are mostly the conscious person that we have come to know, our subconscious is in fact a much larger part of us and controls more of our thoughts and emotions than anything else.
So what happens when we do something that our subconscious thinks was a mistake? Our brain creates shame.
The intention behind this shame is to punish you into never doing that kind of behavior again. To prevent future shame means we must correct the behavior – or at least that's the idea. Get an emotional “poke” when you misbehave.
Moving forward without correcting the behavior and without changing your subconscious? Good luck – the path you have chosen is going to be full of misery and shame.
I am making it seem easy – listen to the resounding feeling of shame and make sure you don't do bad stuff again, right? Well it's not really that simple. To get rid of the shame we need to figure out if it's our beliefs (subconscious) that needs to change, or if it's our behavior that needs to change, and this is really hard to do on our own.
For help, reach out to our counselors. It's what we do.
Written by Brad Messenger, LMSW.