In an article in the Psychotherapy Networker,
therapist Ronald Potter-Efron describes the different types of shame. Like guilt, shame is
one of those emotions that feels so terrible that some people
try to avoid it at all costs. It's driven by a flooding of adrenalin. Here is how it works.
We have a
conscience and know our values and what ways of acting in which we believe. When we do
something different than what we believe in, our conscience nags us to tell us we have done
wrong. That is the feeling of guilt. Guilt is situation
specific. It has a message to try to get you to stop doing something you find distasteful.
It nags, "You did something wrong. Stop doing it."
Guilt can be productive in helping you change your behavior. If you deny what you did wrong
and deny the guilty feelings, you cement it in further. You may even use anger to make guilt
go away and get the person who is confronting you to back off. Owning your mistakes and inappropriate
behavior, apologizing for them and stopping the behavior is the best way to reduce guilt.
is a message about the self esteem that hits in the pit of the stomach. It is global in nature
and says, "You are bad. You are different." It happens when you feel threatened
to the very core of who you are. Shame rears its ugly head when
there is a threat and you feel helpless, humiliated and dehumanized. If you lose control
when you are angry, you have learned to substitute the emotion
of rage to take yourself out of the bad feelings of being a victim.
Rage is a much stronger emotion than anger.
When you rage, you lose self control and adrenalin and cortisol
prepare you to fight. You heat up and go from zero to one hundred twenty miles an hour
in ten seconds in a run-away giant semi. And you are not in control of the wheel. Someone
very nasty has the pedal to the metal and ugly things are
coming out of the mouth which you will feel bad about later. You have been hijacked! You
have lost yourself because rage has taken you over when
you felt a threat to your self esteem.
The threat is to your sense of who you are and comes out
of frustration and shame. According to Potter-Efron four different threats produce four different
kinds of hormonally-driven rage that come from different types of shame.
Survival Rage-when you
are physically attacked and might be hurt.
Impotent Rage-when you feel threatened and feel
utterly helpless and not able to deal with the situation so you rage instead.
Attachment Rage-when you feel threatened because
you might be abandoned or rejected by someone you care about. This type may have developed
if you had a rejecting type parent who used withdrawal and threats to discipline you.
Shame Rage-when you feel humiliated, embarrassed,
or ridiculed and your self esteem takes a drop and you rage to cut off these bad feelings.
This type typically develops if you've had a critical, abusing parent or partner or were
bullied as a child.
Other kinds of shame specific to certain situations
where you feel like you are less than others.
I'm Not Trash Shame Rage-if your family was
poor or lived in a run down place or your parents were dysfunctional alcoholics or different
in some undesirable way, you probably were embarrassed
by them as a child. As an adult, you get angry when you are reminded of how you are different
Loss of Function Shame Rage-loss of your identity as a person because you are less than
the person you used to be. You may have lost stamina, memory
or are disabled and can't work.
Guilt Piling Up Shame Rage-secretly you feel downright ashamed of yourself because you
have not lived up to your values and principles and
have become a person you don't respect. When criticized about your behavior, you resort
to rage to get the other person to leave you alone.
Break the Threat-Hormonal Arousal-Shame-Rage
Potter-Efron says to challenge the five core messages
that you get from shame which send you into self-loathing
and feeling worthless. 1.) You're no good. 2.)You aren't good enough. 3.)You're unlovable.
4.) You don't belong. 5.) You shouldn't be. These are lies
that were thrown on you by someone else and your own feelings of helplessness.
Cutting off shame instead of allowing the feeling
to come up and be worked through and turning it to rage
only keeps the cycle going. As long as you disrupt the feelings of shame, they will stay
with you. The best idea is to bring them out into the light
and learn to work them through. Understand the dynamics that send you from feeing threatened
to rage so that you don't feel the shame. Read about shame, bullying and scapegoating. Make
a personal challenge to break destructive patterns in your
life. Figure out what types of shame you have.
What triggers your impotent, helpless feelings
and what sets you off? Become aware of what's happening within to become the master of your
feelings instead of letting them master you. Learn to observe the process of feeling a threat
(a trigger that threatens self esteem) and the quick shift
to rage. Step back and watch how you lose your control and give away your power to do something
productive when you feel threatened.
When a vulnerable feelings of disappointment and frustration comes up say, "This is
a feeling. It's only a feeling. Feelings are meant to be
felt. That's why they are called feelings. I choose to breathe through this feeling rather
than act it out."
Allow yourself to feel the emotion of guilt and own up to what you did wrong. Taking responsibility
for your own actions can become a way to gain self esteem. Allow yourself to feel the emotion
of shame. Leave the upsetting situation and hang out with the feelings of shame. To defuse
its power, call it by name. "So this is shame. I'm being flooded with adrenalin. I
can handle this. Even though it feels excruciating, I breathe
Find a therapist to help you look at the pattern of violence that you learned in your family,
the neighborhood or at school when you were young or when you were in an abusive relationship.
Living with an aggressive person may have affected you so deeply that you took on the energies
of the aggressor. Redefine your masculinity or your sense of self as a strong woman as
being able to take things as they come up. Real strength
is learning to allow feelings of hurt, disappointment and vulnerability instead of losing
Listen to your body. Catch yourself when you
start to trigger, heat up and lose control. Observe how your body reacts when you are about
to trigger. Does your stomach knot up or your jaw clench? Do you stop breathing? Do you
feel the adrenalin rush as your first clue? Does your
heart beat faster? Find your body changes that signal you are about to lose it. Learn
body cues to break into the cycle before it goes into nasty behavior.
Show your strength by being the one who chooses
not to escalate the fight. Let the other person know that you must leave the situation
at once to calm yourself down in order to not hurt yourself
or the other person. Give up the need to have the last word or make one more point. Tell
yourself that you can be a bigger person by stopping
Use self talk to keep yourself from blowing up. Talk yourself down. Use several phrases
that calm you down such as "This isn't worth it. I refuse to lose it. I don't have
to go down the rage road. I can leave instead of blowing
up and ruining things." Cool yourself down with deep breathing. Tell yourself, "I
will learn to deal with frustrating events."
Shame is released by processing feelings of
entitlement. Challenge your belief that you have the right to vent and scream because you
are frustrated. Find a therapist to help you use The Emotional Freedom Technique, Eye Movement
Desensitization and Reprocessing and The Tapas Technique to release old victim feelings
Be gentle with yourself as you are learning
these new skills. You are breaking habits of a lifetime. If you mess up and revert back
to the mean behavior you dislike, analyze what went
wrong. Don't beat yourself up-that only makes things worse. Tell yourself that you made
a slip and you will be more careful next time. Keep at this process of chipping away the
shame-rage cycle. You will get better over time if you
keep at this task of becoming the best person you can be. Give yourself a break; this process
You are not a bad person because you rage when you
feel helpless or bad about yourself. You are just a good person behaving badly. Forgive yourself
for doing what you have learned and vow to be different. Change the destructive reactive
pattern of shame/rage and develop into the person you really
want to be. Use your power to understand your emotions, own them and work with them instead
of acting them out. Learn to behave better even when you feel bad inside. Deeply desire to
change and you will. You deserve to have a peaceful, happy
The Shame-Rage Connection: From Feeling Defective
and Inadequate to Becoming Disrespectful and Explosive
by Dave Decker M.A.
Many people believe that explosive
and volatile anger is a sign of power, confidence, and "being on top of your game." In fact, this is not
the case at all. Rage and disrespectful anger actually come out of a deep sense of powerlessness, inadequacy, and
despair. Another word for that place is SHAME.
is a significant part of all emotional distress in life. Shame can lead to a whole host of compulsive,
addictive, irresponsible, and demoralizing attitudes and behaviors and is a major contributor to all sorts of emotional
and physical distress that human beings experience. One primary indicator that shame is present in many peoples'
lives is explosive anger that leads to destructive and self-defeating attitudes or abusive actions toward themselves
or others. When people basically feel "okay" about themselves, they do not feel a need to hurt and demean
themselves or those around them.
Think back for a moment to your
time as a child. For some, childhood memories involve chatter and fun at the family dinner table, sitting with your
parents as they read stories to you, having teachers show an interest in who you were and what you did, and playing
happily in your backyard with other neighborhood kids.
others, however, the memories are not nearly so rosy. You may remember punishing and demeaning lectures
directed at you by a parent or teacher whenever you made a mistake. You might remember hostile and abusive scenes whenever
your parents fought. You may also recall being picked on and ridiculed by other children inside and outside school. These
kinds of experiences can lead to an almost constant state of anxiety, self-doubt, and insecurity. This second set of
memories is what sets the stage for the development of shame within you. Once the shame is there, some people end up
converting this shame into rage directed at themselves and others.
you heard, saw, and experienced as a child shapes the way you look at yourself and your life today. The
reality is that people learn to be hostile, cynical, disrespectful, and abusive. And these attitudes and behaviors come
directly from shame and feelings of defectiveness and inadequacy that were often first instilled when you were young.
When you think about it, your experience as a child is very much like being in a laboratory where you discover what
it is to be human. This is where you learn who you are, how to relate to others, and how you fit into the world.
If you grew up in a hurtful, disrespectful, or neglectful family
or you were the target of hostile and abusive treatment by peers or other adults, you received some very distorted
and perverted messages about the way life is and the way life can be. Shame is the end result of these messages and can
quickly lead to acting out your anger in some hurtful and unproductive ways.
When shame becomes a part of you, you end up experiencing a gnawing sense that something is vaguely
and indescribably wrong with who you are and the way you are living your life. Shame leads to doubts
about yourself at your very core and to the idea that you are somehow flawed and do not quite measure up to your
own or others' expectations. These beliefs lead to a tendency to harshly judge yourself and others for mistakes
and shortcomings. These judgments can also lead to feeling angry and even rageful at times.
You may have learned to face each day with a sense of fear and dread, which has gotten in the way of handling
life's challenges.You may have learned that other people cannot be trusted and that you need to be constantly "on
guard" so that others do not hurt or take advantage of you. Needless to say, this sets the stage for you to
feel hostile and angry much of the time and gets in the way of developing close relationships with others.
You may have tried a myriad of strategies to medicate the pain that you sense
is there: drinking or eating too much, spending or gambling compulsively, or working all the time with little energy
left for yourself and your family. Or you may have tried to confront and address people and problems around you
with explosive and disrespectful anger. None of these is actually effective in removing the pain that shame creates.
Saddest of all, it may seem like there's no way out of this vision you have of the world.
But there is an alternative. And the first step in moving beyond your shame is to
understand what shame is and how it affects your day-to-day life. If you don't understand what shame is, there is
no way to begin to change it.
Everyone experiences some shame just
through the process of growing up. Being smaller, less skilled, and not knowing as much as your parents, older siblings,
and others creates a sense of shame: you're not as effective and knowledgeable as some of the people around you.
In a nurturing, loving, and safe environment, however, this helps you develop a realistic appraisal of yourself:
you are not perfect and you do not know everything. This realization leads ideally to a sense of HUMILITY.
But that is not what I am addressing here. Rather, what I am talking
about is TOXIC SHAME, an overwhelming belief and feeling that you are never quite good enough. This
belief, for many people, creates enormous tension and the anger and rage that can go along with it.
When you experience and internalize others' shaming, punishing, and demeaning
messages, toxic shame is created. It becomes your way of looking at yourself, other people, and the
world around you. It also becomes a way of actually living your life that has, at its foundation, control, perfectionism,
blame, reactivity, cynicism, despair, and stagnation. Shame is often initially created when you were hurt and wounded
by people who were important to you in some way.
These wounds might
have been created by your parents, if they were abusive and neglectful. They could have been created
by your siblings or other children, if you were demeaned and put down by them. They might have been
created by teachers or coaches, if you were humiliated in school or disciplined in a punishing
way. Or they could have been created by others, even perfect strangers, who treated you disrespectfully
and acted as if you were insignificant and had no worth. Think back to things that were said to you. Do any of the
examples below sound familiar?
- "Hey fat boy"
- "How can you be so stupid?"
never could do anything right"
- "If you think it's so bad here,
wait 'til you get out in the real world"
- "You're a damn
loser and you'll never amount to anything"
- "You've ruined
- "Nobody could ever care about anyone like you"
- "If it weren't for you, I'd be somebody"
- "I wish you'd never even been born"
are the kinds of statements that destroy self-esteem and self-respect and set the stage for shame to overwhelm your
sense of self. When people around you took out their life's pain on you by saying things like this or treated you
like an object rather than a person with human dignity (e.g. pushing, cuffing, or hitting you), you were affected.
You may have even noticed it at the time but you might not have wanted to admit it to yourself or anyone else. Or you
might not have been clear about its effect on you. Or you may have simply struggled on, doing the best you could under
When you were treated in a punishing
and hurtful way or simply neglected and ignored, you may have taken these messages in and begun to believe that
they were an accurate representation of who you really were. These distortions and
lies became your vision for how you looked at yourself and how you related to the world around you. They became
the roles that you took on and played in your life over the years to the present.
Essentially, what happened in this process is that someone else wrote a LIFE SCRIPT for you.
You were told, through the ways that you were spoken to and treated, who to be and how to live. You did not really
ever have the opportunity to figure out who you actually were and wanted to be. You certainly were not allowed to
write your own life script.
It is literally as if you were enlisted
to act out a role in a drama that was written, directed, and produced by someone else. And unfortunately, that "someone"
didn't have your best interests at heart. What makes this even worse is that there is a lifelong committment to
this production with no "escape clause." You are expected to live and die with this contract that was
written for you by the shamers.
Exactly what is the contract you
had with the writers, the directors and the producers of this script? The contract is based on a set of
UNREALISTIC, DISTORTED, AND RIGID CORE BELIEFS. These are the rules and values you attempt
to live by: what you expect from yourself, other people, and the world around you.
Everyone has core beliefs. These are the values that are important to us. Unfortunately, if you were
shamed, yours were developed and shaped by the negative and disrespectful messages you received from the people
who hurt and demeaned you. These messages communicated in a clear and powerful way to you, even up to the
present, that you, as a human being, are defective, inadequate, powerless, incompetent, unlovable, and alone. Being
put down, ridiculed, or ignored by others gave you the message that you didn't really "count" and that
you were unimportant and of little value. This does not help you feel very good about yourself. And it has the potential
to create anger and even rage at times.
Often, people will vow to themselves,
unconsciously or sometimes even consciously, that they will never allow others to treat them in any way that they
perceive to be similar to this again. And, as adults, they are big, strong, and powerful enough to go right back
at that other person, even if it means becoming disrespectful, explosive, and abusive themselves.
These shaming messages also communicate that the world around you is a frightening and
dangerous place. You never quite "fit in" or find anywhere that feels comfortable or safe. That means
you cannot really trust other people. You need to be constantly wary to avoid being hurt and disrespected by others.
You start to believe that, in order to be okay, you need to play a role that presents an facade to everyone around
you. Sadly, along with this role, there is an intense fear that, at some point, others will actually see through
this false image and realize how truly bad and flawed you really are. Then, you think it is just a matter of time before
they will judge, disrespect, or abandon you. This makes it very difficult to connect in an emotionally meaningful way
with just about anyone.
What fuels the contract and keeps
the script alive in your day-to-day life is your own negative thought process. You have accepted the
shaming statements and actions by others as your reality. It is as if they have found a place in your head and your
heart and have taken over your way of thinking and feeling about yourself and the world around you. You have learned
the lines that you are expected to know and rehearsed them over and over. Now the original shamers are no longer
even necessary to carry on the painful legacy of what you have been handed.
Your SELF-TALK, the words, phrases, and sentences that you think to yourself, becomes negative
and punishing. This creates an atmosphere within you where you continually judge and condemn yourself and
others for shortcomings and mistakes. You have now fully integrated the role that you were expected to play in the
life script that was produced for you. This is the internalization of the shaming things that were said or done
to you. You may even find yourself saying the very same words and phrases to yourself that you heard from others
so many years ago. You may call yourself "stupid," "ugly," or a "loser." If part of
your life script is to be the "ANGRY YOUNG MAN" (or WOMAN) you may end up thinking about others in equally
disrespectful and demeaning terms.
Continuing to live the
shame-based script that was foisted on you can turn your life into a catastrophe. Your sense of defectiveness
leads to a variety of negative outcomes based on what you think and how you behave as you go through the motions
of your life, the shame-based drama you are living out. This can include angry and hostile attitudes that only get
worse as you age and drive away even the people who try to be close to you. True intimacy is beyond your grasp.
The script keeps you from being able to connect with others in a honest and meaningful way. The idea of being close is
just too scary. You just expect that they will end up hurting you in the same way that you were hurt in the past.
A profound feeling of loneliness and estrangement follows. And you may not even know why.
A shame-based person experiences an interruption of spontaneous behavior,
a loss of energy, paralysis, and immobilization. It takes an enormous amount of energy to play roles that
contradict who you really are and have the potential to be. This saps your motivation and often limits your ability
to take positive risks. It frequently leads to feeling trapped or stuck in your personal or professional life.
Shame is often accompanied by the belief that you are powerless and being
victimized by everyone and everything around you. This only increases your anger, hostility, and desire for revenge.
This belief also decreases further your willingness to actually do something positive to move your life in a
more healthy direction. Sadly, however, shame often promotes your willingness to take negative and self-destructive
risks such as drinking and driving and verbally and physically assaulting others which only creates consequences
and even more shame.
The end result of this role you have taken
on is an overwhelming sense of despair, cynicism, hopelessness, and stagnation. This is one dramatic production
where it is critical to review the part you've been playing up to now, work hard to discover your true self, and
then start to live that out.
Often, beginning to recognize
and address your shame feels overwhelming, depressing, and shaming in and of itself. It is not a pleasant
task. But identifying the roles chosen for you by others and then actually rewriting the script you have been given
into the script you wish to play is the process that has to occur in order tor anything to change. And you are the
only one who can do it (with the help of others who truly care about you in the present).
As you understand more about what shame is and how it may be affecting you, start to know and embrace the characters
and roles that have kept you stuck in your life up to this point. If explosive anger is an issue for you, do not
deny it! If you deny that you are an angry person when in fact you are, the anger takes on a life of its own and
it controls you rather than your making the necessary decisions to remain in control of it. Work hard to accept
anger as part of who you are and have been and set out to change the messages you still carry that created this
script and keep it alive within you. You may feel frightened and overwhelmed as you begin to uncover how you have
been shamed and how it has contributed to the disrespectful anger you have too often directed at others. But this
journey is worth the pain.
Take a look below at some examples
of life scripts that angry people play out in their lives. You may recognize yourself in these or
you might see others you know in them. Even if they do not seem to fit, think about the script that you may be playing
and try to identify, very specifically, how it has affected your life.
- The GOOD LITTLE GIRLS/BOYS who reacted to the shaming by seeking to please and placate
others. They get resentful when no one seems to appreciate and value everything they are trying so hard to do.
- The arrogant REBELS who reacted to the shaming by flaunting
authority and seething about the way things are. They spew venom on others and act out in self-destructive and
hurtful ways whenever they perceive that someone is trying to tell them what to do.
- The hard-working and successful SUPERACHIEVERS who reacted to the shaming by accomplishing
as much as is humanly possible to try to feel better about themselves. They become tense, stressed, and angry
when the achievements never seem to be enough to really allow them to feel okay about themselves and when there
is never any time for themselves and those they say they love.
self-sacrificing and long-suffering MARTYRS who reacted to the shaming by devoting their lives
to looking after and taking care of others. They become annoyed when they don't get the credit and thanks they
think they deserve and when there is no one there to help take care of them.
- The SAVIORS who reacted to the shaming by taking on the job of rescuing those around
them who are continually floundering in their lives. They become irritated when no one ever seems to be willing
and able to take care of themselves so that they can actually find time to focus on their own lives.
- The perpetual VICTIMS who react to the shaming by feeling constantly
persecuted by others. Their anger is manifested by their ongoing cynical and fearful view of life and the self-fulfilling
belief that others will eventually disrespect and hurt them.
underachieving LOSERS who reacted to the shaming by never seeming to be able to "get
it all together." They feel furious or depressed that their lives are not turning out the way everyone else
seems to be living.
- The CLOWNS who reacted
to the shaming with laughter that hides the emotional pain of living day-to-day. Their anger develops when their
humor starts to drift into sarcasm and hostility, distances even those who want to be close to them, and no longer
effectively shields them from their pain.
is critical to realize that the original shaming you experienced was not your fault and that you did not deserve
to be shamed. You were not responsible as a child for the shaming script that others wrote for you. As
all children do, you believed what you were told by parents, teachers, peers, and the other directors in your life.
This is especially true when the shamers were the people you were supposed to be able to count on. Your vulnerability
and fear kept you captive in the shame-based drama.
in the present, you are the one who is responsible to change your life script. No one else will or can do
it for you. Your shame is your responsibility as an adult. And the disrespectful anger, toward yourself or others,
that flows out of the shame is your responsibility as well.
to imagine and write a new story, through your current thoughts, words, attitudes, and actions, about who you really
are inside and who you actually want to be. Your disrespectful anger in the present only creates more shame, for
you and others. Take the necessary steps to change how you experience and express your anger, even if that means
attending an anger class or getting some professional help from a therapist experienced in working with anger issues.
If disrespectful and explosive anger is a part of your shame-based
drama, it needs to change if you are ever going to be able to address and change the shame and feelings of inadequacy
that fuel it. If you make the choice to do this, it can create an enormous difference in your own life
and in the lives of those around you.
QUESTIONS TO THINK
© 1987 David J. Decker, MA, LP
- Think about some examples of what
others said or did when you were young that hurt or demeaned you and gave you the sense that you were
defective or "not good enough?"
- Who said or did these
things to you?
- How are those things you have identified related to
anger triggers you experience in the present?
you make a mistake or when you do not live up to your own or others' expectations in the present, what
words come to your mind?
- What are some of the words or
phrases that you use to put yourself down today?
- What are some
of the words or phrases that you use to hurt or demean others today when you are angry with them?
- Think and write about the destructive life script
you were given and about the parts you were taught and expected to play by others. How have you played this
script out in your life (i.e. what have you done to maintain and build on this original script)?