Unpacking the feeling of shame
Shame is one of the toughest feelings we can experience in our life because it affects not only our self-esteem but also our capacity to enjoy relationships, sexuality, work etc., in one word: Life. Many people are severely affected by it and have to deal with intense psychological and social problems caused by chronic shame.
In this article, I am going to unpack shame, in order to give you a model through which you can better understand its dynamic and tackle it according to body-oriented therapy.
Shame is connected to negative judgments
"I am ashamed of my weight"
"I am ashamed to hear my voice"
"I am ashamed of my sexual feelings"
These are just some of the negative thoughts we can have in our minds daily. Shame is, in fact, made up of negative judgments about our body, behaviour, way of thinking and feeling, decisions, preferences and so on. These judgments are connected to different areas of our life, according to what we care about or where we got hurt the most. Here some examples:
"I am ashamed of my weight"… and I judge myself as…"Ugly"
"I am ashamed to hear my voice"… and I judge myself as… "Stupid"
"I am ashamed when I have sexual feelings for someone"… and I judge myself as… "Not likeable"
Shame can assume many forms and judgments, but in the end, we can bring them all down to one main one: "I am wrong". Shame is, in fact, the presence within ourselves of an intrinsic sense of wrongness which, like the trunk of a tree, develops into various branches and leaves.
Negative judgments and emotions
The relationship between negative judgments and emotions is similar to the relationship between smoke and fire. If we try to blow the smoke away, sooner or later it will appear again. The presence of suppressed emotions in our body keep "burning", and unless we extinguish them, we will keep being choked by our negative judgments.
Negative judgments come from suppressed anger.
Whenever you feel full of negative judgments, ask yourself: "How do I feel?" or "How do they make me feel?"… You will notice a sense of sadness and heaviness at first. This movement of attention away from judgments in the mind and towards emotions in the body is healthy because the sooner you take care of the "fire", the faster the smoke will cease.
Under sadness and heaviness
Sadness and heaviness are usually the first layers of shame, but if you start to go deeper into the experience of these emotions in the body, you will find that you are experiencing anger. In fact, negative judgments come from suppressed anger.
Once this anger is allowed to come to the surface and to be expressed in an active way through appropriate therapeutic methods, you will feel lighter. This opens the way to a deeper emotion: Emotional pain. It is only when we feel how painful it is to have been judged that the pattern collapses.
We were not born with negative judgments, we learned them and got them directly or indirectly from our surroundings, especially in childhood, when we were very open and vulnerable and these "emotional thorns" got hooked into our hearts. We can say that we treat ourselves like we have been treated by meaningful people like parents, teachers, siblings or classmates or like we saw those people treat themselves.
Under anger and pain
If you let this emotional pain flow without blocking it out of fear, then you will arrive at the bottom of shame and experience what has always been underneath it: A natural and spontaneous love intertwined with a sense of freedom and lightness. A way to arrive there is through body-oriented exercises guided by a therapist who can help you to release these feelings without closing off again.
Emotional release therapy
Emotional release therapy refers to therapeutic exercises which involve body and emotions. They consist of movements and positions of the body that help to unlock the tensions below which the emotions are imprisoned, in order to let them flow spontaneously. It is a bit like breaking a dike - afterwards, the water flows by itself.
The exercises can involve soft movements and sound-making or very fast movements and even screaming, according to the necessity. In fact, how can we process our emotions, which are physical manifestations of the experience of feelings, if we don't involve the body in a transformative experience?
If we don't unpack shame, we cannot reach our core of love.
These therapeutic exercises help to remove the emotional thorns and allow our emotional heart to let love flow spontaneously again. With time, it becomes our stable inner climate.
We often use the poetic term "emotional heart" to name a non-specific function in our body-mind. I consider the emotional heart to be very connected to the breath. It is, in fact, the activity through which you can become aware of feelings, hold them or release them. To open one's heart is to open one's breath: It is scary, it makes us vulnerable but also terribly alive and available to life.
Out of shame
If we don't unpack shame, we cannot reach our core of love. Positive affirmations are useful but they give only temporary support to balance the negative judgments, like painkillers which diminish the pain temporarily without addressing the cause - in this case, suppressed emotions.
Delivering the body from functioning as a storage room for suppressed emotions brings a sense of natural love and ease, a spaciousness in the breath, that we commonly call happiness.
"Love is the feeling that emanates from the heart and
extends through the blood to every cell of the body." ~ A. Lowen