Learn How to Overcome Shame

Overcoming Shame and Self-Consciousness.

The experience of shame, acute self-conscious, and social anxiety can produce very uncomfortable psychological reactions. So much so, that they often inhibit our activities, causing us to avoid circumstances and relationships that evoke them.

These experiences vary from simply feeling embarrassed for having said something we think was stupid, to having a full-fledged panic attack when having to perform, to having a chronic underlying feeling of shame. Most of us have experienced some form of social anxiety in our lives. Having some understanding about what is happening within our minds and bodies and the common origins of each of these reactions, may help us to relieve some of the symptoms.

Origins

Shame, acute self-conscious, and social anxiety arise out of a break in positive connection with one's self. Instead of feeling that others are being supportive and accepting of us, we imagine ourselves as the object of judgment and evaluation. The experience of being cut off from positive support right at the time when it is most needed, and being subjected to critical judgment, real or imagined, produces a shame response.

Being overly self-conscious has its origins in making one's self the object of severe self-scrutiny. It is important to realize that in both cases the scrutinizing "other" is not real, but rather a mental representation, constructed by our minds. At these critical moments we are cut off from any possibility of self-affirmation, as well as affirmation from others.

The Shame Response

Chronic disregard or misinterpretation of social or emotional needs in our relationships produces shame in both children and adults. Some of the physiological reactions to a shame experience are reddening of the face and neck area, heart rate increase, rapid breathing, trembling, withdrawal and dissociative mental states in which we are disconnected from our ordinary thought processes. Not being able to make everyday associations, it becomes harder for us to use our minds to support us in a difficult situation.

Because the physical symptoms of the shame reaction, or a panic attack can be so severe, a person can experience anticipatory anxiety, being afraid or ashamed of having these symptoms.

The Impact of Shame

In ordinary circumstances, our mind records our experiences by taking in what we are aware of and forming a neutral narrative about what has happened. If something uncomfortable happens we can think of something to say, then remove ourselves and decide that it might be wiser not to engage in that situation in the future. We can make a rational decision about what has happened and direct ourselves as to how to think about it. We can give ourselves support by creating a positive self-narrative, reminding ourselves of our value and meaning.

One of the complications of shame or of being overly self-conscious is that our awareness has to be split into many parts. Our usual rational thought processes are interrupted. We are now experiencing ourselves on several different levels of awareness, e.g., what we are perceiving, how we believe we are being evaluated, and how our body is reacting. When we are disassociated, we cannot create a positive narrative to help support us through the experience. In fact we have become victim of our habitual negative self-narrative.

Understanding the dynamics of these reactions can help us begin constructing a more informed inner narrative about what is happening and in this way we can help counteract the reactions of either acute self-consciousness or a shame reaction. With a deeper understanding of ourselves, our experience in our lives and in our relationships can be more comfortable.

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