Shame is an incredibly damaging emotion to experience and carry. In my own personal life I have come to closely know adults that were severely shamed as children and I can tell you that this feels like one of the most destructive conditions to our “Being-ness”
How Does Shame Affect Adults?
Adults who are shamed as children experience many negative barriers within their lives and adult relationships.
They are afraid to be vulnerable and they fear the exposure of their true self. They may suffer from extreme shyness, embarrassment and feelings of being inferior to others. They do not believe they ‘make’ mistakes, instead they believe they ‘are’ a mistake.
Adults shamed as children fear intimacy and tend to avoid real commitment in relationships. There is often a feeling that one foot is already out the door in preparation to run. This dynamic can lead to relationship patterns where one leaves rather then being left. They become attracted only to those people who are unavailable or the create psychological distancing through daydreaming and workaholism.
They can appear either grandiose and self- centered or appear selfless. The latter gives others the power, control and applause they deny for themselves.
Adults shamed as children feel that “No matter what I do, it won’t make a difference and I am and always will be unlovable.”
They frequently feel defensive when even minor negative feedback is given. They suffer feelings of severe humiliation if forced to look at mistakes or imperfections. Adults who have experienced shame, there is no such thing as a minor mistake, it’s all or nothing.
Adults shamed as children frequently blame others before they can be blames themselves.
They also suffer debilitating guilt and apologize constantly. They assume responsibility for the behavior of those around them.
They feel like outsiders and feel a pervasive sense of loneliness throughout their lives even when surrounded by those who love and care about them.
Adults shamed as children project theirs believes about themselves onto others and engage in mind-reading which is not in their favour. They consistently feel judged by others.
They often feel ugly, flawed and imperfect. These feelings regarding self may lead to a focus on clothing and make-up in an attempt to hide flaws in personal appearance.
They often feel controlled from the outside and from within. Normal spontaneous expression is blocked. They feel ashamed to express normal feelings such as joy, fear, anger, sexuality, playfulness or creativity. A common thought is “I’m making a fool of myself.”
Adults shamed as children feels they must do everything perfectly or not at all. This internalized belief frequently leads to performance anxiety and procrastination.
They lie to themselves as well as others.
They block their feelings of shame through compulsive behaviours such as workaholism, eating disorders, shopping, substance abuse, list-making or gambling.
They have caseloads rather than friendships. They can’t risk having friends because once they get too close, the friends will see their shame.
Adults shamed as children often involve themselves in compulsive processing and intellectualization (over-thinking) as a defense to pain.
They have little sense of emotional boundaries. They feel constantly violated by others. They frequently build false boundaries like walls, rage, pleasing or isolation behaviours. If they have been physically or sexually abused as children, they will also have little sense of physical boundaries, constantly confusing nurturing and sexuality, resulting in compulsive interaction or no interaction.
Does this seem like an incredibly long list? It really is! Shame is such a damaging action!
Shame generating behaviours originate in our Family of Origin.
Children are told messages of deficiency such as “You are not good enough”, “You are bad”, “You don’t belong”, “You are not lovable”, “You should not exist”.
There is emphasis on family image instead of reality
These families are secrecy centered and there is either parental neglect or disinterest.
There is a prevalence of abandonment and betrayal themes and they are controlled through threat of withdrawal of love.
There is often physical and sexual abuse which violates autonomy.
There is emphasis on being perfect and they are controlled through shaming.
An important point to remember here too is that most parents who shame, have been deeply shamed themselves. They actually do not know how to be un-shameful. They are doing what they know and they really do not know any different.
If as you read through these results of what childhood shame can do to a human being, and you feel as if you are relating to many of them, chances are that you can now recognize where some of your difficult to experience behaviours might come from. If this is the case for you, please feel free to reach out and book your free phone consultation with Shelley RP(Q).
A follow up article regarding how to begin to heal shame will be coming soon.
Thank you to TAC for providing such succinct information about the way in which shame affects us.