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Living in a World of Shame and Blame - How to Flip the Switch

Living in a World of Shame and Blame - How to Flip the Switch

We are living in some tough times wouldn't you agree?  The terrible loss of our military men and women in the middle east, the devastating Northern California Fires that have resulted in loss of homes, belongings and communities, and, of course, the Covid Pandemic.

So how are people handling these difficult situations? As a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist I have always been fascinated by the human condition at the core - thoughts, feelings, behaviors, actions and intent.  I've been thinking about this a lot and have been witnessing multiple incidents of this shame and blame game. Well, I don't wanna play that game! I also don't want to ignore what's happening to people and how they are being treated so I thought I'd write my first blog on what shame is and how you can stop playing the shame game. Remember it takes two to play a game and its really not as much fun playing by yourself now is it? 

Lets talk about shame .....Shame is one of the most debilitating emotions you can feel and has the most devastating consequences. Shame isn't at all like anxiety or fear where you can feel the jolt of energy sweeping through your body. Shame is subtle, yet deep, and feels like wrapping yourself up in a blanket in the corner in the dark, hiding forever from the light. I always tell my therapists the difference between guilt and shame is that guilt says "I did something wrong" and shame says "I am bad".  I don't wish that feeling on anyone, but we can't ignore the fact that people are being shamed and judged.

According to Harriet Lerner, shame comes from EVERY system we belong to including family of origin, medical, government, religious, teachers, doctors and even therapists. Unfortunately, at some point you have or will experience not only shame but the judgment that comes with it and I want you to know where it comes from because it is always put on you by someone else. Remember back when you saw a parent swipe one of their fingers with the other one? What they were really doing was taking the shame off of them and putting it on to you! Remember that next time someone tries to shame you. 


There are three reasons why people shame other people:

  1. A misguided attempt to be helpful - using shame to get people to obey and conform

  2. Anxiety driven attempts to get comfortable with yourself. When anxiety is high and resources are scarce shaming begins. A person doesn't just wake up and say "I'm not feeling great today, my self esteem is really low so I think I'll go shame someone then I will feel better about myself".

  3. When people are a member of dominant group and consider themselves an essential human 

So if you have been shamed I encourage you to look at that shame right in the eye and bring it into the light. You don't need to hide in the corner and be suffocated by that dark feeling - you have a voice! you can use it! And you have the power to strip away that shame that someone put on you. And you can do that without judging. Sometimes you just need to speak it out loud to yourself so you can hear your own voice - give that a try. Last week I had an encounter with someone attempting to shame me. I was called "Stupid" yep! I sure was. And, knowing all this information about  shame I was able to just shrug my shoulders and say "ok". I didn't let it affect me or come in to my core and when you are able to do that you are giving them their shame back. It's like you go, no thank you, you can have this back. 

My final thoughts - everyone has an opinion - that's what makes us all unique individuals but when opinions are projected as judgements towards another human being or a class of people that is not ok. In fact, judgement is actually putting something you hear into a category that already exists in your head. It's like grabbing pieces of information and words from someone and then putting them in little mental cubicles in your head (C.Gilligan). I'm here to tell you there is a BETTER way. When your listening to another person come from a place of not knowing and just being curious. We never want to come into a conversation with preconceived notions in our heads. Clear out the cache in the brain and open yourself up to being curious and just wondering. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised at the depth of conversations you will have and you will be able to eliminate the shame and blame.

If you or someone you know is struggling with being shamed let us help you find your voice and conquer those feelings of shame. Feel free to contact us at Heartstrings Counseling 916-676-7405.

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Heartstrings Counseling, Inc 6135 King Road, Suite B Loomis, CA 95650 916-676-7405 [email protected]