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  • Fe Robinson

Shame is a powerful protective resource

Shame is a difficult emotion, it’s not one people tend to enjoy or want to cultivate. As such, it’s an experience people tend to dislike, avoid, and even feel ashamed of. Shame lives in the shadows, it’s the dark thoughts of our self-perceived inadequacies. It can be isolating, and painful.

So why then do I call it a resource? Like any emotion, shame has a function, it does not arise for nothing. Often in childhood shame arises as a defence to enable the young person to maintain the illusion that their caregivers are good and worthy, meaning that the child is safe and will be cared for. They take in the dysfunction and inadequacy as their own to avoid alienation. They adapt to the family system and collude with it, to maintain connection, and safety.

Shame becomes a way of doing to yourself what others might otherwise do to you. In this way it maintains safety, and closeness. It enables connection when it would not otherwise be possible. That can be a matter of life and death, and it certainly enables safety when a young person is in emotionally arid places.

Shame is a way of de-escalating conflict, it causes a collapsing inwards physically which is a submissive and appeasing response of the body to an untenable situation. Shame can limit the damage in a situation, it may make us compliant and avoid attention and punishment for behaviours others prefer us not to show.

The cost, though, of this shame, is self-alienation. Parts of our own way of being have to be condemned and pushed away, the bad feelings are taken in, and parts of our own authenticity are surrendered. This can become habitual, it can result in self-loathing, ambivalence, intellectualisation, numbness, overwhelm, and even dissociation. In essence, we split off what is intolerable, and in doing so we lose a part of our own animation. As Schore remarks, “Shame reduces self-exposure or self-exploration.”

A key part of the recovery from the impact of shame is to sponsor and explore this powerful protective emotion. It was, and is, trying to look after you and keep you safe. Exploring the ways that it did this and honouring the contribution is important to allow your system to move on and release the protective instinct embedded within. As you attune and care for the wounded aspects within, your inner experience can begin to heal and change. Compassion and love were missing in the past, they can now be added in to move you from alienation to connection and attachment.

For help in healing your shame wounds and moving towards a sense of your own wholeness, get in touch.


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