Shame makes the world go around


The singer Morrissey wrote a great song called "Shame is the Name". In one part of the song, he sings over and over again, "Shame, makes the world go 'round".

And he's right.

The experience of shame happens to all of us and originates primarily within our most significant relationships.

It starts by happening between people (e.g. you and a parent, you and a sibling, teacher, or friend) but then, over time, can be induced internally all by ourselves, no conspirators needed.

In other words, once we experience shame from the outside, we are able to create it ourselves from the inside.

And no age or developmental stage is spared the joys of shame.

Shame happens at any point in the life cycle and is not the result of dysfunctional families alone, though the roots are usually grown early.

In response to our own particular shame template, we develop an identity that does everything it can to avoid the experience of shame.

Our coping strategies of avoidance become the habits and patterns of our personality.

As children, we lower our eyes, hang our heads, and blush. Thankfully, it’s a feeling that comes and goes. As adults, now with our mind’s power of abstraction and meaning making, we link these sensations to our identity and are able to prolong the experience of shame indefinitely.

The experience of shame is so fundamental to being human, regardless of upbringing, that communal conversations about it, where we invite each other to describe exactly who we are in the moment, are crucial to avoid compounding the problem: feeling shame about feeling shame.

Like all affective states, shame is, at its foundation, a bunch of thoughts that induce uncomfortable sensations or a bunch of sensations that generate shameful thoughts. The more we allow ourselves to experience the sensations of shame, and notice the thoughts that accompany those sensations, the more we allow them to change.

And whatever is the particular flavor of shameful thoughts you have most regularly, you can find solace in the fact that how you experience shame in your body is how every human experiences it (to greater or lesser degrees of intensity).

In the end, the sensations of shame may function simply as a means to amplify awareness of a particular moment, rather than to support your mind’s paranoid thesis that you’re a shit sandwich with no possibility of redemption.

John Rosania