This is the 2nd in the series. If you haven’t already read Part 1, click here.
Since shame usually develops slowly over time, from early experiences with caretakers and family dynamics, Shame develops as a sense of self.
So how does shame develop and how may it show up for you?
We know early experiences of abuse or violation in childhood could leave a child feeling shame. But in addition to that, we need to acknowledge that shame can develop from subtle, non-concrete, interpersonal experiences such as:
- Early experiences of disconnection
- A feeling of invisibility
- Mismatched temperaments between caretaker and baby
- Mal-attunement from caretakers (not being able to have one’s experiences and feelings accurately recognized and responded to)
Children get to know themselves through their parents’ eyes*. If parents are distracted or preoccupied with life events, if they’re depressed, if they’re numbing their own feelings and so emotionally unavailable, then authentic connection with their children cannot develop and ultimately a child cannot know themselves as valuable, loved, and cherished. Rather, they are left feeling unworthy, undefined, invisible, flawed, and unlovable – they develop a shame-based sense of themselves.
*(a disclaimer about parents -- they are not to blame!! This is very important to remember. Most parents did they best they could and many were parenting from their own hurt and shame-based sense of themselves)
Look back – Did shame begin early?
Perhaps you grew up in a family with parents unable to emotionally attune to you. Really “see and know” you for who you were and who you were becoming. There may have been alcoholism or substance use in one or both parents, or affairs, or a depressed mother. Maybe your parents were too caught up in their own stuff and you may have gone unnoticed.
How did Shame shape your ways of relating with others?
You may have learned to take care of others’ feelings and needs rather than know your own, and be "good" so as not to burden your parents. You may have learned how to read others' moods very well so that you would know how to navigate yourself around them. You longed for closeness and recognition but worried that if people got close they would discover you had big faults and they would go away.
How could Shame be showing up in your life?
You may have struggled with addictions yourself growing up, or food and weight issues. Your relationships may have been one-sided while you became a caretaker to those in your life without your own needs being known or met.
Or, perhaps you’d been lost in your relationship without a voice, perhaps with an unfaithful partner. You may have an inability to have healthy, clear boundaries in your relationships. Maybe you’ve had several failed relationships.
Even if you excel at work you may find yourself caught in problematic work relationships (people taking advantage of you) or overcommitting yourself and being overwhelmed and stressed out.
You don’t know how to say no. You feel shame about expressing your own needs or accepting any care or recognition. You may feel fundamentally flawed but you hold that thought privately.
Shame, with its deep roots in early childhood, can impact every area of your life, limit genuine connections with others, and limit getting to know your own true self.
Stay tuned for the 3rd and final part of this series on Shame to learn how to heal from shame in your life.
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