The Difference Between Healthy & Unhealthy Shame
Evelyn “Champagne” King’s top 10 dance hit “Shame” from 1978 is not only enjoyable and freeing to dance to, it includes a very emotionally freeing sentiment. She proclaims with confidence, “Love is in my heart, tearing the rules apart, so why should I be ashamed?” Isn’t that the truth! What frees more completely than unconditional love?
Emotional freedom involves understanding the difference between “healthy” and “unhealthy” shame.
If we are feeling guilt over an act that hurt someone, that is the healthy version of shame. That feeling is telling us that something went against our value system. It’s a signal to make amends and rectify the situation so that we can renew our state of well-being. Once we’ve forgiven (if we were wronged) or asked for forgiveness (if we were the hurtful one), then let it go.
Unhealthy shame, on the other hand, is when we allow ourselves to be defined by a weakness or something we have no control over.
We are either playing a broken record of victimhood or failure in our own mind or allowing someone else to play it in our presence. We need to remember in this case that we are nothing short of whole and complete, and not to see ourselves as anything less than victorious.
It’s been understood for years by childhood development experts that a person’s core personality is mostly affected and formed by the age of 10. As early as birth, a person’s character and self-image is shaped by his or her caretakers and stays primarily stable throughout their lives. So how a caretaker processes life with a child plays the most significant role in how a person sees themselves into adulthood.
In the area of shame, something as simple as how to acknowledge a feeling can be mishandled without being aware of the words that are being used.
It’s fairly common, for instance, for parents to quickly assess that a child “is shy” or “is stubborn” or “is always whiny.” Usually this is done in earshot of the child, who quickly internalizes such characterizations as his or her norm. A wise parent would assess each circumstance and instead state that a child was feeling shy in a certain situation, as in meeting new people. It is not “who” they are but it is how they are feeling at the time.
People grow up feeling shame for having valid feelings. This can then create a fear of failure and low self-worth, prohibiting them from trying new things or stretching their limits.
The cost of not having an emotionally safe upbringing pays unfortunate negative dividends into the adult’s future. Many are riddled with fear until they see that these were unnecessary and inaccurate descriptions, and learn to accept love for themselves in the place of fear.
Love is exactly what sets us free. Just as are our bodies are created to heal physical wounds and broken bones, our souls are created to heal when we draw closer to the emotional equivalent — safe love — and away from fear and judgment.
Bogdanos, M. (2013). The Difference Between Healthy & Unhealthy Shame. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 31, 2015, from http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2013/03/19/the-difference-between-healthy-unhealthy-shame/