We often feel bad about ourselves, conflating how we can behave with who we are. We can also feel a dislike for who we are and also feel deep down, a sense that we lack worth as a human being. And so we tread heavily on the earth, comparing our weighty lack of substance to the seemingly Sorted & Successful Ariel figures around us.
Welcome to the walk of shame. The walking dead. The human experience of walking around feeling like there’s a cloud, a shadow, hanging over you; a weight on your chest; a restriction in your throat or an emptiness at your core; whilst flooded with telling-off thoughts feeding negative loops and creating a sense of terrible failure.
The twisted land of the thriving inner critic. The dark spin between the mind and the soul. The world we are so beautifully adept at creating inside, whilst the sun is shining down on our body and human consciousness.
The degree to which we manage this is the difference between freely living and living imprisoned by our own minds.
Low self-esteem and self-worth can manifest in different ways such as: insecurity, sensitivity, worry about what others think, anxiety, reactivity, addictive behaviours, depression, busyness, perfectionism, attachment disorder in relationships, withdrawal, people pleasing, boundary issues and so on ..
These all have feeling bad at their core, so we feel bad about ourselves which can become ‘I am a Bad Person’. Guilt is doing something we feel badly about. Shame is believing that we did it because we are bad. I fucked up becomes ‘I Am A Fuck Up. Shame is a form of self-blame when we get hurt by, and when we hurt others.
We struggle in life because we don’t like parts or aspects of ourselves (which can then become translated into ‘who we are’). We won’t fully accept all of who we are. So we can struggle to feel like we belong and will be accepted; we feel people are scrutinising and judging (when in fact we are doing a job on ourselves already). We wonder ‘What Have I Done Wrong’ and when we make a mistake, obsess on ‘What I Did Wrong’. All consummating in the grandiose belief ‘There is Something Wrong With Me’.
This strips us of our capacity to see all that is our slightly flawed perfect humanness. The parts of ourselves which are ok or we may quite like, well, we think they need to be better, and we must try harder and constantly strive since: ‘I Am Not Enough’ and ‘I Am Not Good Enough’; an extremely common belief and fear which is the basis of the shrink of shame.
Shame comes from believing we should be different and is why it’s so hard to be authentic. To be authentic is to be vulnerable. Showing vulnerability to others can be excruciating if we believe that we will not be loved or accepted if we are our true to our self. We cannot risk being vulnerable; show such ‘extreme emotions’ and so find the courage and willingness to be seen (Brenee Brown). We feel inadequate; so anxious about our position, the world and relationship. This makes finding the recognition, connection and love we yearn for so difficult.
We have to show up to be seen. Not just do well. Yikes.
Yet your shame is based on something you would meet in someone else if they dared to show you theirs. It is here that self-love and self-compassion are so crucial to bridge our internal relationship with self into external relationship with other.
Shame becomes fear: we fear we are unlovable, unworthy. We hide the aspects of ourselves we judge as flawed and rejected, when we once dared to show them. We shut down the parts of us we figure caused others to abandon or distance us. This, sadly, can be messages we internalise at an early age from our experience with caregivers, education, establishments and peers. So our inner critics internalise a parental attitude. If we become entrenched with the judgements we internalised, we simply become overwhelmed by a negative and constant internal monologue. Our beliefs about ourselves are the meanings we attached to our early experiences. This can lead us to diminish our capacity and value.
And right in the centre of that is you as a child. Stuck in your adult body with you now. Wanting Love. From You.
As a child, our safety is dependent on the caregiver and we learn what we need to do, to please, to stay safe. We also internalise that if there is something lacking in our caregivers, there must be something wrong with us. If there is something wrong with us then we can change that, hide the bad, unwelcome bits and concentrate on doing ‘good behaviour’. All in the name of love.
Our entire internal system; our psycho-biology, neurology and physiology, is an ecosystem of networks organised around our survival. Which is why we are so governed by fears. Our protective mechanisms and strategies serve to give us a sense of control. Mainly around pre-emptively avoiding (perceived) danger, such as rejection. We have manager parts with safeguarding roles, often critics, focused on avoiding hurt by pushing us towards achieving success or reward, hypervigilant about our performance, appearance etc. Protectors, in their aim to avoid experiences that re-wound us, will even undermine our own confidence and use shame and anxiety to keep us back where it’s safe. Thereby preventing exposure. But shame is perpetuated as we hide away these vulnerabilities. Our capacity to connect with our potential for aliveness is suppressed with our true feelings.
I recently heard Imposter Syndrome described as “it’s just what growth feels like”. This is a great example of a mind set change and the beliefs of ‘I’m Not Good Enough’ and ‘I Don’t Belong’ getting activated when we experience the threat of discomfort and vulnerability. When we think we are self-sabotaging, it’s actually different parts of us mitigating risk and hurt in a number of different ways. Hence we can feel a strong push pull and even conflict, as multiple strategies come into play. We may seek connection for example, then push people away as we fear the thing we long for. We may numb ourselves out or fill ourselves up through addictive behaviour (used to both avoid and handle hurt). And then we feel bad about doing that.
These diligent parts might not realise we’re actually strong enough and wise enough now to handle what may happen; we can cope with situations as an adult that we couldn’t as a child. We don’t need them to parent us anymore, push us about or make us small, yet they are stuck doing their thing tirelessly, even though their strategies may have become unnecessary and ineffective since they were developed necessarily, years ago.
I work with people to explore such ‘dark’ parts of us like the inner critic, that we may dislike, so that we may have some insight into what they are misguidedly trying to do for us. We can create a different relationship with them, understand what kicks them off better and acknowledge the young vulnerabilities they are working so hard for, so they don’t need to. Our beliefs can change, triggers can become choice points and we can become less reactive and defensive. We need not listen to everything the internal critics say. We can develop trust and self-compassion and become more centred in standing in who we are.
It took me years to acknowledge that like many other people, feeling unloved as a child (an attachment wound) meant I believed I was unlovable and so a bad person. I’m glad to say I now know those beliefs aren’t true. My system can still function at times as though I’m that hurt little girl, but I don’t feel so much shame. I can take responsibility for my behaviour. Our patterns are deeply entrenched; but getting to know them makes it a lot easier to accept how and why we are the way we are, in all our different aspects.
In understanding, accepting and knowing the different parts of our selves we can start to address the unnecessary shame we are burdened with, reach out to others and walk more lightly in the world.