Therapist on the whole help people expand their capacity to have feelings. We bear and traverse grief. We contain and enjoy excitement. We hold and learn from sadness, or longing. We contain and console fear. Therapy does not help you to avoid emotion, nor does it magically evacuate tough feelings, but rather helps you to grow into a mature adult who can bear a full range of human emotion. When we bear emotions, they do dissipate, and we also learn to regulate them and/or chose healthy actions that naturally alter what we are feeling. This capacity leads to a depth of life satisfaction, a wealth of empathy and relational capacity, and resilience through life’s ups and downs. I cannot speak enough for the usefulness of a full emotional capacity.
Shame, however, is not an affect that we should learn to bear. Shame is a toxic state of mind that inhibits almost all real emotional growth, presence of mind, and relational capacity. I think of shame like a cancer. If grief and excitement and pleasure and pain and anger are the guts and bone marrow and blood of our emotional lives, shame is the cancer.
For one, shame breeds the urge for isolation or secrecy. And isolation, or hiding, breeds the feeling of shame. If you’ve ever done something you felt shameful about and gave in to the urge to hide that fact and/or your feelings from yourself and/or someone you’re close to, I guarantee that your hiding and secrecy increased the feeling of shame.
Further, when we fail to acknowledge to ourselves and our loved ones what we are truly feeling or doing, we obstruct the path of learning and growth. Trying to grow in the presence of shame and secrecy is like trying to let a wound heal while it’s bloody, infected, and wrapped up in a wet bandage. The wound does not get the attention, cleaning or medication in needs!
You can see how this cycle ultimately not only inhibits emotional growth, but limits any capacity to be related to other people. When overrun by shame, we are not open to relate but rather are pulled to hide and restrict. If this cancer is allowed to grow, it will result in massive projections onto other people. If we cannot look honestly at ourselves or show ourselves honestly to another, we will at some point look to the defensive of projection to allow the hiding to go on.
So what is the cure for this cancer? In a nutshell, an open relationship with a reasonably understanding other who can help you explore the root of the shame without further judgment or harshness. The good news is that shame is Not an Emotion; it is a View. Shame is only a view through someone’s shaming eyes! So, if you can feel yourself to be viewed through eyes that are compassionate and seeking truth over judgment, you can fairly naturally relieve yourself of shame. This is one of the gifts of a great therapeutic relationship, a loving partner, a sibling, or a good friend!
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