©2002 by Donna Cunningham, MSW
Shame is one of the most painful states of being because it
assaults our sense of self-worth. When we are ashamed, we want to
hide from the world. We feel like lepers and pariahs, unworthy
of human society. Guilt and shame are different, though the
two are easily confused because both make us feel so terrible
about ourselves. Guilt, however, is about things we have done that
we regret because of the harm they caused. Shame is about who
we are. It is more fundamental and harder to cleanse than guilt -- we
can atone for our actions, but we cannot readily change who we are.
We are born shameless but are taught shame very early -- it begins
with toilet training and proceeds from there. It is a primary tool
that first our elders and later our peers use to manipulate and
control us and to achieve dominance. Shame can be evoked by subtle
means, from raising an eyebrow and statements like, "I'm surprised that
you..." or "I'm disappointed that you..." all the way to blindsiders
like, "It's a good thing your mother isn't around to see this!"
Shame is the currency of emotional blackmail.
The first step to healing almost any issue is awareness, and
shame is no exception. Until we allow ourselves to experience the
shame we carry, it is difficult to be free of it. We need to allow
ourselves to feel it rather than quickly pushing it down into the
unconscious. If you aren't certain whether what you are feeling is
shame, it is often a sick, twisting, burning sensation in the solar
plexus -- the area just above the waist -- that eats away at you and
makes you wish you could sink through the floor.
Though it can surely be uncomfortable, shame really is no worse
than a toothache or menstrual cramps and doesn't last nearly as
long as they do. By sitting quietly with it, we learn a great deal
about where it is coming from. We become more aware of what is going
on within ourselves and in our relationships.
Perhaps a comfortable place to
begin is with television commercials. Watch what ploys they use to persuade you that you are unacceptable unless you buy their products.
Then begin observing what the people around you
are doing and saying to arouse shame in you, and consider what
they stand to gain from it. Your first response to catching on
may be anger -- a healthy anger that mobilizes your will to stand
up against this kind of manipulation.
It may not be wise to act on this discovery immediately. Because
of a lifelong backlog of shame, we are prone to react far out of
proportion to the current situation. Worse, until we have cleared
out some of it, people are likely to escalate their shaming
techniques and evoke even more of it in order to regain control.
They move from raising an eyebrow and shaking their heads to more
devastating ploys like, "Maybe I should tell the crowd what you are
up to", or, "I thought you were a better person than this". If
we are still full of shame, we may cave in and feel even worse
about ourselves rather than recognizing the manipulation for
what it is.
Though awareness is the foundation of healing, adjunct therapies
like chakra work, crystals, and energy work can support us in releasing this uncomfortable
emotion. The flower remedies, also known as flower essences, are
especially powerful healers. Several of them can assist us in
becoming more aware of shame and in releasing an old backlog of it.
The Flower Essence Repertory, published by the Flower Essence Society,
is an invaluable tool for finding remedies related to a particular
healing issue. (It includes only their own remedies, and the 39
that were identified by Dr. Edward Bach and that are also made
by Healing Herbs, the brand I use.) Their listings for the category
"Shame" include definitions for 14 essences, many of which I have
found invaluable. (See p.257)
A primary remedy for shame is Crab Apple, which Dr. Bach described
as for those of us who feel disgusting or unclean, as though there
were something inherently wrong with us. It is an especially
good one for bodily shame. FES also suggests Bach's Agrimony
for those who cover a sense of shame with a mask of cheerfulness,
the sort who have to look good to others no matter how they might
Pink Monkeyflower is perhaps FES's prime remedy for
shame, including the sense that we might be exposed in all our
vulnerability and pain. The Repertory says, "Most frequently,
early childhood trauma or abuse -- or exploitative or debasing
experiences at any phase of life -- are the hidden factors in such
behavior". (p.354) FES's Golden Eardrops is another important
healer for those whose shame is based in painful childhood events.
FES's collection also contains several very fine essences for coming
to terms with the shame associated with our bodies and our sexual
selves. They include Basil (when sexuality conflicts with spiritual
beliefs), Calla Lily (when there is shame about one's sexual
feelings or orientation), Easter Lily (the feeling that sexuality
is impure), and Pretty Face (when appearance doesn't match cultural
ideals). For a more in-depth exploration of this topic, see Martin
Bulgerin's article on
Essences and Sexuality.
Why should we go through the considerable effort of uncovering
and healing shame? This toxic emotion is so painful that most of
us will go to any lengths to avoid it. We hide the parts of ourselves
that are not socially acceptable and contort ourselves into
acceptability. At the cost of finding our own identity,
we often bend to social pressure and conform unquestioningly as a
way to appear "good enough".
When we feel shame, we often rush to hide
from it by shoving it out of our awareness and then singling out
people even less acceptable than ourselves. We're not as bad -- we
rush to point out -- as THOSE trailer trash or THOSE foreigners or
THOSE fat people.
Others are so flooded with shame by the
teen years that they know they can never be good enough,
so they cope by acting out "shamelessly", becoming mavericks
and social outcasts. In short, shame damages our ability to love
ourselves and to feel one with the community of beings. How much
better to be free of the burden of shame by working to heal it!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Donna Cunningham, MSW, is one of the editors of Vibration and has many years
of experience in both flower remedies and astrology. For links to more of her articles,
visit her Frequent
The World Wide Essence Society does not mean to imply any recommendation of nor give certification to any individuals or companies above. This article is provided purely for informational purposes. We ask consumers to make their own determination as to quality of the services and products offered above. This article is not meant to be advice, and the information is not meant to replace medical or psychological treatment.