My own experience of shame has been lifelong and quite painful. I tried many ways of working with it, even calling the problem by other names - like low self-esteem or self-worth, a problem with self-love or self-acceptance, and impostor syndrome. One thing was present as a basic assumption in all of these methods - something is wrong with me, and I should be able to fix it.
I read that shame means I am bad. I heard that definition reinforced by smart likeable shame-free people. It resonated with my own feelings. So I bought into it, and went to work on trying to convince myself that I was good - which some part of me knew to be true. But, talking myself out of an emotion was completely ineffective! My personal shame cycle went like this:
- I felt shame
- I named it as shame
- I tried to talk myself out of feeling shame, because really, I do know I'm good
- It would work for a little while
- The shame would spring back up (stuffing an emotion just doesn't work!)
- I would feel more shame because I "should" be able to control this!
- Return to number 1 and repeat endlessly. Argh!
I'm an analyst at heart. Something clearly wasn't working here. Then I realized, defining shame as "I am bad" actually feeds the shame cycle. I realized "I am bad" is a misinterpretation of shame. At last, I could say, with a genuinely compassionate hand on my own heart, "No wonder I've been struggling!"