The Soul of Shame
I had the chance to hear Dr. Curt Thompson speak this past week about his new book The Soul of Shame. In his second book [the first being The Anatomy of the Soul, also recommended], Dr. Thompson dives into the biological, psychological, and social roots of shame. It is something we all experience, and as I read this book I am reminded of just how much shame exists outside of my awareness - influencing most of my thoughts and interactions.
Dr. Thompson describes the neurobiological functions our brain goes through as it thrives on connection with other people. Connection actually helps our brain become more integrated, we have a better understanding of ourselves because of it, and we feel more whole. Shame does the opposite, it makes us isolate which removes further from our awareness where we really are. It’s simple, but it captures the dynamic of why we pull back, and why it becomes harder and harder to share the longer we pull back. In the first chapter Dr. Thompson writes: “...the very act of turning away, while temporarily protecting and relieving us from our feeling (and the gaze of the “other”), ironically simultaneously reinforces the very shame we are attempting to avoid...indeed this dance between hiding and feeling shame itself becomes a tightening of the noose. We feel shame, and then feel shame for feeling shame. It begets itself.” (p. 31)
If I feel shame about something I think, or something I did, and I do not share this moment with those around me, it gets buried. My own way of thinking through it is tainted with shame that has been built up inside of me - so in order to avoid the potential reality of what I am experiencing, I push it aside, bury it deep, forget it was ever there. I move one step further away from having a right assessment of myself.
Connection reverses this and it is vital to battling our core emotional experience of shame.
This is part of the reason people hire counselors. The deep rooted shame that begins affecting our daily living becomes too much to carry, and we need someone to step in and help us sift through it. Dr. Thompson writes from his experience as a psychiatrist and what he has seen walking with people as they develop an understanding of how to live with the shame in their lives. It is the beginning, a learning experience of how to start being more real. If this terrifies you - you’re in good company! Even as I read this book I am confronted with how much I refuse to deal with my shame, instead wanting to present myself as having it all together - hoping nobody finds out that I rarely know what I’m doing and often feel deeply inadequate.
Though I have not quite finished this book yet, I have been deeply challenged by Dr. Thompson’s research and writing on this topic. I would encourage you to grab a copy and begin exploring the nature of shame in your own life.
If you have read any of Dr. Thompson’s work, or pick up this book, let me know what you think!