Previously we discussed how Fear is your friend, because can guide you towards what’s important for you, motivate you to take action to improve your odds, and you give you a rush. We also discussed how Sadness can be your friend, because Sadness shows you what you care about, Sadness helps you to appreciate what you have, and Sadness requires you to be authentic. Today we are going to talk about how Shame is your friend. This one is a bit trickier than the first two, but it’s no less powerful.
1. Shame Indicates Your Vulnerabilities
First, Shame shows you what you believe about yourself, and what your vulnerabilities are. We all have our weak spots, and, when you think about it, wouldn’t you rather be aware of them than not? So, you may ask, how does this work? Great question, I’m glad you asked. As Eleanor Roosevelt famously said, “no one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” When you feel shame, you are subconsciously consenting to what was said about you. Hmmm, sounds complicated you say. Fair enough, here’s an example. If someone were to call me stupid, it would roll right off my back. No part of me feels stupid. I have a PhD from the University of Chicago, and they don’t just hand those out for free. I have full faith in my intellectual abilities. Now, when someone calls me ugly, I feel a flush of shame, because when I was a kid, I felt ugly, and part of me still feels that way sometimes, so that indicates that I am still carrying around that belief about myself, buried in my subconscious. When someone insults you and you get upset, part of you believes the insult might be true, that’s insight into what you believe about yourself, and it indicates what you might want to work on as personal growth.
2. Shame Deflates Your Ego
Second, Shame deflates your ego. When you have done something that hurts yourself or others, you feel ashamed. When someone calls you on it, you feel even more ashamed. Both of those things are good, by the way. We all do things that violate our values (and that feeling of Shame can show you what those are, by the way!), and Shame is the emotion we feel in response to our values being hurt, just as physical pain is your body’s response to being hurt. Shame gets us out of our self-conscious ego that drives us to make selfish or foolish choices, and back into our values and our community.
3. The Back-Handed Compliment
Lastly, Shame is actually a back-handed compliment. You can only feel shame if you have a conscience and it’s working! Maybe you do something stupid or cruel, and you feel ashamed. That’s great! That means you are a decent human being with a conscience. A psychopath won’t feel shame, but you do, so you are a good person! The fact that you feel bad about yourself is actually cause to feel good about yourself! Shame also highlights what your values are, because you only feel it when you violate your values. Also, when you feel Shame, part of you knows you can do better. No one feels ashamed that they can’t fly or breathe underwater, because these are impossible! You may feel ashamed that you don’t make more money, but that means that you already believe you could be making more money! Another back-handed compliment! So, while Shame may be quite painful in the moment, if you reflect on it and deconstruct it, you can actually find a lot to be proud of (I know, weird, right?)
So, Shame shows you what you believe about yourself and what your vulnerabilities are, it deflates your ego, and it is actually a backhanded compliment! Not bad, that friend has a lot of wisdom and good advice for you, even thought it may seem hard to swallow at first.