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Overcoming Shame: From Shame to Connection and Self Acceptance

In the world of emotions, shame is often likened to a certain dark wizard from a beloved tale—a character so feared that even mentioning his name was taboo. We've all heard it whispered, the emotion that must not be named. Much like Harry Potter's Voldemort, "he-who-must-not-be-named", shame carries an aura of dread. It's the emotion we're reluctant to acknowledge, fearing that by doing so, we may draw its attention, just as speaking Voldemort's name might attract his malevolent gaze. Our culture, too, seems to echo this sentiment, discouraging us from openly admitting to feeling shame. Why? Because of a pervasive fear that unveiling our shame might render us unlovable, unworthy or even repulsive to others. But what if, like Harry Potter, we confront this fear head-on, realizing that acknowledging our shame is the first step toward its transformation? Join us on this journey from shame's shadow to the radiant light of self-acceptance and genuine connection.

Shame, often the Voldemort of emotions, is an unspoken specter we fear confronting. To talk about shame can be a daunting task, evoking feelings of discomfort and disconnection. Shame often associates itself with wrongdoing, leading many to believe that perfection is the key to love and acceptance: "If I were just good enough, everything would turn out right, and everyone would love me." Yet life rarely follows the scripts we write for ourselves, and when it deviates, shame creeps in, serving as a harsh reminder that we're not enough. UGH!!!



If you've ever found yourself grappling with these thoughts, let's set the record straight. You are enough, just as you are—complete with your wounds, strengths, and struggles. Life's unpredictability is an intrinsic part of our beautiful human journey, constantly urging us to grow and love ourselves, embracing our imperfections. With this self-acceptance, we can move forward, not stuck in what we wish were true but grounded in the reality of what is.


Shame: The Unspoken Disconnect

Speaking openly about shame is essential because it profoundly influences how we connect with others. Shame embodies the fear of rejection, exclusion, and disconnection—a fear rooted in the loss of meaning and happiness derived from being valued by others. Ironically, when shame takes hold, and the dread of disconnection looms, we often respond in ways that push people further away, reinforcing the disconnection we desperately seek to avoid.


D.L. Nathanson introduced the Compass of Shame, revealing four common responses to shame:


  • Withdrawal—we hide, isolate, or run away

  • Attack self—we engage in self-deprecating verbal assaults

  • Avoidance—we deny, distract, or turn to substances to cope

  • Attack others—we lash out physically or verbally at those around us

(Wachtel, 2015)


Withdrawal, Avoidance, Attack Other, Attack Self, The four axes of the compass of shame.

It's common for our responses to shame to encompass multiple points on this compass. I've experienced it too—shouting at my son while silently berating myself, followed by a period of silence and withdrawal. It's as if our reactions to shame can bounce from one to the other, much like a pinball in a pinball machine—each trigger, each bump, sending us in a different direction. How do you respond to shame in your diverse relationships—with your children, your partner, your parents, your colleagues, your friends? What patterns of behavior do you observe in others that may be linked to their shame? What do your own reactions to shame reveal about the needs you prioritize in these relationships?


The Transformative Power of Understanding Shame


Why is understanding shame significant?

Because shame doesn't have to lead to disconnection. Understanding shame, our responses, and the responses of others empowers us to react differently. There is a way to respond to shame that nurtures and strengthens our relationships, one that allows individuals to express their feelings and needs without judgment. This seemingly simple act can mend the disconnection wrought by shame, build trust, and deepen intimacy. It requires courage, clarity, truth, vulnerability, and compassion. This is why nonviolent communication is so effective—it offers a framework to express thoughts, feelings, even those tied to shame, and voice needs while making requests to fulfill them.


Overcoming Shame: Navigating the Path to Healing

So, how should we respond to shame? When contemplating shame, the unspoken plea often emerges: "Tell me I'm good enough." The compassionate response to this plea, echoing in my heart and mind, is, "You are good enough. You are always good enough. Right now you are good enough." From there, with support, we can address the specific fears and needs that arise from the situation.


Next, we can identify the thoughts, feelings, and life fulfilling qualities underlying our shame or that of others. When we witness any of the four responses to shame mentioned on the compass, we can inquire about the potential sources of shame.


Finally, we can use a set of questions—a blend of nonviolent communication and the affective questions used in restorative practices—to delve into the emotions and needs at play in the situation for everyone involved:


  • "What happened?"

  • "What thoughts surface when you reflect on what occurred?"

  • "What emotions are present?"

  • "Who was, or is, affected by this?"

  • "In what ways?"

  • "What fundamental life full filling qualities are represented by these thoughts and feelings?"

  • "What steps are necessary to make things right ( to heal -others AND you)?"

  • "What would you like to ask of yourself or others?"


It's essential not to become ensnared in the stories of the past. While these narratives reveal what matters to us individually, they can become quicksand, halting our growth and change. Instead, we should focus on the life fulfilling qualities which will support ourselves and others as we move forward. By granting one another the space and support to address harm and disconnection, we embark on a shared journey. This journey requires embracing vulnerability, sharing feelings, acknowledging needs, and seeking support.


One handing holding another's hand with love and acceptance

The risk associated with vulnerability is undoubtedly worth the rewards it yields. It's our shared vulnerability that enables us to confront our shame and the fears encapsulated in the belief "I'm not enough," "I'm not lovable," "I'm not worthy." Together, we can embark on the path of overcoming shame and discovering the inherent, divine perfection residing within our imperfect selves. Shame is not a cause for shame itself; it's a tool that, when wielded with compassion, facilitates connection. When we share our shame we learn that we are not alone. When we share our shame it allows us to realize that, both individually and collectively, not only are we "good enough;" we are divinely, beautifully, perfectly enough.

A hand with the words "you are good enough" written on it.

If you wish to explore the realm of shame or any other topic mentioned in this post further, don't hesitate to reach out. I offer free in-person or remote (phone or online) consultations. I work with individuals, couples, families, and communities to cultivate strong relationships through restorative practices, nonviolent communication, and spiritual exploration.


Liesbet Bickett

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