The Voice of Shame

The Voice of Shame

Remember the show Everybody Loves Raymond? I often think about one scene that has stuck with me over the years. Ray’s wife Debra was attempting to get the family to address real feelings and disrupt the cycle of dysfunction, at which point Frank Barone exclaims, “is this more of your ‘I’m ok, you’re ok crap!'”. Frank had some classic lines; his no-nonsense, impatient persona was an expectation while watching the show, worthy of a chuckle.

Frank’s attitude stuck out to me, and I’ve heard similar sentiments since then. Sometimes it comes across as ‘why do you need all this mumbo jumbo, just feel better, get over it,’ ‘therapy is for weak people’, or ‘just pray more and trust God’. I’m not sure I can say any of those statements are well-meaning. These reactions are likely motivated by many things, such as anger, fear, or disappointment; the list could go on.

I wonder if part of the motivation behind Frank’s question, and other similar statements, is the sense that he was not completely ok, but to do something about it would mean revealing himself, which can be overwhelming to someone listening to the voice of shame. Shame is a familiar feeling. It’s the sense that inside, something is wrong with me; something fundamental about me is broken. Brené Brown defines shame as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging—something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection.”

The voice of shame speaks in many people’s lives; it sounds like “if people knew the real me, they wouldn’t like me,” “if people knew about my problems, my life would be ruined,” and “if people saw the real person I am, I would be rejected.” Does any of this ring a bell? Shame isolates; it tells you to hide. The voice of shame says, “You are the only person who can’t get this right; this works for everyone except you. You are so broken that even God can’t help you!”. Yeah, it’s dark. Sometimes, this “you’re ok, I’m ok crap” can make things seem worse for a while.

Once when talking to a friend about a delicate subject, I was asked, “where are you getting this stuff, books?”. I didn’t have the guts to tell them that while I had learned a lot from books on the topic at hand, I was also intimately acquainted with the subject, so some of the authority I claimed was from personal experience.

Part of my decision not to reveal myself was a judgement call, and part was the voice of shame. I have heard the voice of shame loudly over the years. I have also read about shame in books, my authority on the subject is mainly informed by personal experience. How do you think I can personify the voice of shame so well? 

What I have found helpful in dealing with shame is:

1. The understanding that shame is something that is learned, a belief that a person has accepted about the self.

2. Shame is not the real you, so those horrible feelings of isolation and brokenness are just feelings; they don’t speak to the core of your true self. A compassionate, creative, caring, calm, curious, connected, confident self is at the core of who you are. Many traditions talk about the true self. Whether it’s the divine spark, the image of God, potential growth, self-actualization, or whatever tradition speaks to you, it’s the part of you endowed with value and worth.

3. I have also found internal family systems helpful in dealing with shame. A lovely IFS sentiment speaks directly to the heart of shame, “All Parts Are Welcome.” All parts of you, your personality, your psyche, your problems, the extreme parts, the scary parts are welcome; you don’t have to hide. Developing a new relationship with yourself and even your shame will shift perspectives and move you closer to the real you, your core self that is valued and worthy.

Therapy isn’t just about stopping behaviours. It’s about coming to a place where you can release shame and feel like all of you is welcome, just as you are, apart from what you do and despite what you do. There are many options for making yourself feel better, but shame isn’t one. I’ve said this before, but I think it’s worth repeating that if shame had the power to heal and promote change, we wouldn’t need counsellors, therapists, psychiatrists, anti-depressants, valium, or support groups; we could just shame each other and ourselves.

 Don’t let shame stop you from reaching out for help. Find a therapist who welcomes all parts of you, even those you hate and despise. You can live free from the tyranny of shame, it takes a little courage, but it’s worth it. Book a session today!