Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Shameful Emotions

"Please not again!"
Today , being Tuesday, it was once again time for my weekly dose of skills training. I have grown to quite like our little routine of learning, and even though some of the other service users do my head in, I am finding myself more tolerant of their perceived annoyances. I am genuinely interested in how they are getting on with their skill use, even when the unrelenting crisis's overtake our sessions (which happens nearly every week!) I am overcome with empathy and understanding for them rather than intolerance and frustration. I like to take this as a sign of progression on my part, as I am not as wrapped up in my own internal suffering as I have been in the past. 

We are still on EMOTION REGULATION and have finished the first goal of UNDERSTANDING and NAMING EMOTIONS. We got given this massive set of notes on the topic of describing emotions and to be honest I didn't read it all, I've had much too much of a crap week for reading such patronizing handouts. I just flicked through it and stumbled across a very adequate-to-me section on SHAME. Its my primary emotion. My weakness. My downfall.

Shame is recognized as a powerful, painful and potentially dangerous emotion,- especially for those who don’t understand its origins or know how to manage it. Unlike guilt, which is the feeling of doing something wrong, shame is the feeling of being something wrong. When I experiences shame, I feel there is something basically wrong with me. I constantly compare some aspect of myself or behavior to a standard and nearly always feel like I do not live up to that standard. Guilt can be positive, it’s a response of psychologically healthy individuals who realize they have done something wrong. It helps them act more positively, more responsibly, often to correct what they've done. But shame is not productive, shame tends to direct individuals into destructive behaviors. When we focus on what we did wrong, we can correct it; but when we’re convinced that we are wrong as a result of shame, our whole sense of self is eroded.

Shame is the substructure for SELF-INVALIDATION I feel. It feeds the drive to 'pile misery on-top of misery' as Marsha would say! When I feel shame, I believe myself unlovable, that I do not live up to expectation, that I am a failure, unworthy of life. With these thoughts circulating around my head, it becomes a good deal easier to contemplate and justify the destructiveness of self harm. Yes I know I have not referred to my ED as self harm before, but in reality, it is, I need to stop telling myself otherwise.

I actively avoid intimacy with others and have only superficial relationships most of the time, which always deteriorate in times of stress. Isolation and loneliness are serious consequences of my shame. Self-condemning attitudes and negative self-talk reinforce the shame and ultimately lead to self-loathing and self-sabotaging ED behavior.

So much goes into expelling the energy of SHAME. The expressions and actions of my shame control my life most days. It could be hiding the after shocks of a binge, or avoiding others, terrified they know about my Bulimia. I often find myself avoiding myself too, switching off, dissociating from my shame, ignoring my emotion.. This shutting down effects me greatly. I spend hours sitting in front of a screen, looking at moving pictures but not taking anything in, lying for hours, not washing, not eating, not peeing, just fighting to push away the shame. 

It upset me to realize this SHAME hold so much power over me. But some glimmer of hope was illuminated during the teaching part of today session when we learned about challenging negative thoughts with the basic CBT model and also the DBT skill of OPPOSITE ACTION.

The idea of exposing myself to the horrible feeling of shame scares me to my core. But the main thing I must remember is that OPPOSITE ACTION is only for when the emotion does not fit the fact. So my challenge this week is to figure out a transgression for which I feel I could practice this skill, engage in behavior which sets off shame over and over. I must also go ALL THE WAY by not apologizing or trying to make up, and change my body posture to look innocent, maintain eye contact and keep my voice steady and clear.

Some ideas I might try;
  • Leave a dirty plate in the kitchen overnight.
  • Return an item to a shop.
  • Ask for help from a friend or family member.


  1. Shame manifest itself in similar ways as yours does. I also engage in self harming behaviors. I have to keep reminding myself when it comes to my rape, that it is my rapists shame and not my own. Thank you for this post :-)

    1. Angela, I am deeply sorry for your trauma. And glad you found some solace in this post. Thank you for reading. xxx