by Dr Melanie Salmon Level 3 TRE Trainer and QEC founder

I believe that SHAME is seldom talked about and seldom does it appear in the literature on healing modalities.

As a Trainer for Practitioners in both TRE (Trauma Releasing Exercises) and QEC (Quantum Energy Coaching), I feel the time has come to shine a spotlight on SHAME.

Brene Brown, in her seminal research work on VULNERABILITY and Shame, has given two important talks to the global community via Having researched vulnerability for 9 years, she discovered that little has been documented on the impact of shame in our culture.  She has now published a book on the findings of her research, called “Daring Greatly”

Gestalt Definition of Shame 

Shame, as a physiological response of pulling back, is an instinctive self-protection when we perceive we wont be received ( Robert G Lee: Shame and belonging in Childhood, British Gestalt Journal 2007)).

Shame in the Body 

Shame begins with shyness, moves through stages of disappointment to humiliation until full blown shame is felt.  In the body the observed response is:

shame-body-languagethe eyes drop
the head hangs
the chest collapses
the shoulders pull forwards
the body may go into full fetal contraction
heart rate increase,
sweating all are part of the physiological response generated in the body
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Consequences of Shame

Ironically shame is experienced as information about the SELF :

children-shameI am inadequate
I am worthless
I am unlovable
I am too much/too little
I am unworthy of belonging

Shame is often caused by a failure to connect from a signifigant OTHER eg caregiver, mother, father to a child. 

In the case of developmental shame, the mother (or other main caregiver) is either absent, inadequate (has no understanding of child’s emotional need for attention), pre-occupied ( eg has depression, or may be working or engaged with large family), disapproving or even abusive.

Childhood Development and Shame

adult-despairIf shame is prolonged or accompanies abuse, especially in the crucial neurological development of 0-2 years, the experience of not being received (eg poor maternal attunement), is overwhelming to the nervous system and the child develops ground shame.  This means whenever there is yearning for connection, throughout life, shame is triggered.  This state leads ultimately to isolation, disconnection and becoming the subject of blame and disregard…leading to hopelessness and despair.

Difference between guilt and shame

GUILT: I’ve done something bad

SHAME: I am bad

Children are unable to explain their experiences rationally so an abusive environment is interpreted as a deficiency of the self:

child traumaSomething bad happened to me: I am bad
I failed my test: I am a failure
I cant get help: I am unworthy of help
I cant fight back/say no:
I am inadequate, I am nothing
I am bad
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Adult Coping Mechanisms for Dealing with Shame

The experience of shame is SO AWFUL ( feeling of wanting the ground to swallow you up), that we develop defenses against experiencing shame:

  • SECRECY and ISOLATION ( let no-one know)
  • DIVERSION REACTION ( let no-one see)

FEMALES: often develop “perfectionism”  hiding all shameful inner feelings/attributes, while striving to be the perfect wife, mother, employee etc.

MALES: often develop macho behaviour to prevent any sign of “weakness”

Aggression, Anger and Shame

AngerAggression involves a LASHING OUT AS REACTION to shame being triggered…ie rather than experience shame, we would prefer to lash out (verbally, emotionally, mentally or physically). This is a deflection from feeling shame and lies at the core of our violent culture. Anger is preferable to shame

Addiction and Shame

If we suppress a reaction of agression or dramatic emotional outbursts, either for fear of retribution or because we identify strongly with ‘being a victim’ and do not want to risk losing the support (even if it is just pity or concern) of others, we might turn our aggression inwards, toward ourselves and it might express in the form of addiction or other ways of self-harming.

It is of great value for us to be conscious of this mechanisms – TRE® can allow us to slowly move toward the core of the emotional trigger and look at it without feeling lost or overwhelmed.

As TRE® Providers who gently guide others on their way toward balance, we benefit greatly from knowing the signs of shame being triggered. Our goal is to provide the safe space and assurance for others to eventually move through and out of these states into a new aliveness.