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Shame

There is no doubt, seeing the suffering of the depressed clients I work with, that feelings of shame can have huge consequences on wellbeing and sense of self.

Gershen Kaufman summed up many of the consequences of shame in one paragraph of his book on the psychology of shame (Kaufman, Gershen, Shame: The Power of Caring, Rochester, 1992):

“…shame is important because no other affect is more disturbing to the self, none more central for the sense of identity. In the context of normal development, shame is the source of low self-esteem and deficient body-image. In the context of pathological development, shame is central to the emergence of alienation, loneliness and perfectionism”.

As my previous post on the inner critic described, we all engage to some degree in a continuous dialogue with our inner critic’s voice. When our critic is very harsh, this is when shame can be felt and depression may follow. Unfortunately, as we tend to listen and believe our critic, we are primed to interpret situations in such a way that provides us with more evidence that our critic is  right. Our inner critic develops as a means of keeping ourselves in line; as mentioned before,  it tries its best to protect us from feeling rejected, left out, alone or abandoned. When it becomes too extreme however, it can become very destructive and increase this feeling of shame.

What can we do about feelings of shame?

Below are nine ways to begin working with your shame:

  1. Know that you were not born feeling shame about yourself. Know that shame is learned. Get curious about where and when and from who you learned your shame.

 

  1. Know that shame is NOT your fault, even though our shame tells us that it is and can be very convincing.

 

  1. Know that as adults, we can learn skills and get help in handling shame like learning to manage rejection. We can gain enough confidence to take chances and come out of hiding. There is always hope.

 

  1. Know that you can surround yourself with friends and partners who accept and love you for you. You can find people to share in your joy and excitement. You can find people who share your interest in being real and authentic.

 

  1. Practice changing your habitual reflex to shrink and hide. Slowly start experimenting with expansive feelings like joy, pride, interest and excitement when they arise by firstly acknowledging them. Notice if you immediately dismiss good feelings about yourself or towards others.

 

  1. Know that arrogance, contempt, perfectionism, pretenses, bullying behavior and aggression in general are often a cover for underlying shame. Notice (non-judgmentally) those defensive behaviours that you recognize in yourself and others.

 

  1. Practice offering compassion to the part(s) of you that feel ashamed or bad in the moments you are suffering most.

 

  1. Practice working with your shamed part(s) by asking it (them) as though it (they) were another person you were talking to “How did you learn to feel ashamed? From whom or where did you get this message?” Then be patient and listen to your shamed part(s). it might tell you something new.

Practice finding and validating the core emotions you have felt as a result of being shamed in the present or the past. (see my previous post on “Change”

Change

Most of us go to therapy because, at some level, to some degree, we recognise we need to change. Things aren’t working as they are. Relationships at home, at work, or more generally aren’t functioning anymore. We can’t go on as things are.

Some of the time, it is external circumstances that need changing but more often than not, it is something within us, internally that we have to get a hold of. We have become out of touch with who we are; we don’t feel “ourselves”. We have been avoiding facing things for a while. We have perhaps been blocking our emotions. 

Most of us block access to our core emotions with a variety of creative defenses originally designed to protect us from emotional pain and discomfort. While offering us emotional protection, defenses block access to our core emotions, which leads to chronic states of anxiety, depression, and other psychological problems. As adults, we need to relearn to experience our core emotions safely. By doing so, anxiety and depression are reduced and we feel much better.

For example, “Joe” was effectively taught by his father, due to being repeatedly ridiculed, not to show sadness and definitely not to cry. His brain learned to thwart sadness using shame, an inhibitory emotion. But we need to experience all our core emotions to feel vital and authentic and to recover from life’s losses. People who cannot experience sadness get “stuck” and develop psychological symptoms, which are in fact cues that something within us needs attention and care. By working to undo the connections between sadness and shame in his brain, Joe learned to experience sadness once again and felt better in a whole host of ways. Moving through our emotions regulates the brain and nervous system. That is why, when we connect to our core emotions and move through them, we feel more confident, calm, and clear.

What are core emotions? They are largely physical sensations that we come to recognize and name as a particular emotionCore emotions inform us about our environment. Am I safe or in danger? What do I need/want and don’t want? Am I sad? Am I hurt? What brings me pleasure? What disgusts me? What excites me? Core emotions are hard-wired in the middle part of our brains, meaning they are NOT subject to conscious control. Triggered by the environment, each core emotion is pre-wired to set off a host of physiological reactions that prime us for action. Core emotions are brilliant: if we get out of their way, their innate programming tells us what to do to live life adaptively. The core emotions are: sadness, fear, anger, joy, excitement, sexual excitement and disgust.

What are inhibitory emotions? Inhibitory emotions block core emotions. Shame, anxiety and guilt, the inhibitory emotions, block core emotions: 1) when they are in conflict with what pleases others whom we need like parents, peers, and partners; 2) when core emotions become too intense and our brain wants to shut them down to protect us from the emotional overwhelm. 

What are defenses? Defenses are anything we do to avoid feeling core or inhibitory emotions. Depression is a defense because in that state we are out of touch with our core emotions. There are an infinite number of defenses but some of the other common ones in our culture are: joking, sarcasm, too much “screen time,” criticizing, spacing out, procrastination, preoccupation, negative thinking, misguided aggression, working too much, over-exercising, over-eating, under-eating, cutting, sex, obsession, addiction, etc.

 

The Change Triangle

The Change Triangle, devised by psychotherapist, Hilary Hendel, is intended to help in that immediate moment when something within you, or someone or something in your environment causes you to experience emotional struggle. When you figure out where you are on The Triangle, the idea is that you feel better for two reasons: 1) just from gaining some distance and perspective from your immediate feeling; and 2) from having some direction of what to do to help yourself feel better.

Here are the basic steps:

  1. Identify which corner you most closely find yourself.
  2. Pause, breathe, and calm yourself for a few seconds at least.
  3. Try to identify all the underlying core emotions coming up in the moment. There may be more than one. Name each one you can.
  4. Think through the best way to proceed in the moment.

With a little practice, when you ask, “Where am I on The Change Triangle right now?” you will realize that your emotional state is found at one of three corners of The Triangle:

a) Top left corner – Defense

b) Top right corner – Anxiety, Shame or Guilt

c) Bottom corner – Core Emotion

Or below The Triangle, in a calm state of peace and openheartedness – where we all hope to spend much more time. The state below The Triangle is accessed by “listening” to what the core emotion of the moment is telling us, by honoring what it says and by letting the associated body sensations move through freely until they naturally subside. Core emotions are wavelike in nature: rising then ebbing.

This of course is an alternative way to that of working with parts or sub-personalities (see earlier posts) though it is essentially the same: we identify which part we are acting from (step 1 above), we try and separate from it (step 2), notice it from a place of the witnessing self (step 3) , give it some attention, perhaps ask what it needs and then respond by fulfilling that need from the place of a calm, compassionate self (step 4).

Whichever approach you find fits best, or even if you were to use a combination of both, the key is to identify and then safely process or release the core emotion.

This is what can bring about real change.

Observing & Witnessing

When we have thoughts or desires that we don’t believe are appropriate or are painful, we often keep them tucked away in the unconscious mind and nervous system. As long as we keep them there, we remain unaware of them and will act out on them without realising it. Vipassana or Insight Meditation, one of the the most ancient forms of meditation, allows you to see these thoughts and desires – when you see them and observe them, you can release them and they you are no longer trapped by the unconscious and having to program yourself. Until that time, the unconscious mind becomes a trap.

5 minute meditation

The aim of this 5 minute mediation is to bring the mind into a state where it is detached but observant of all elements of present moment experience that arise (thoughts, feelings, emotions, sensations, sensory perceptions and body movements). 

Sit in a comfortable position.

Close your eyes or keep them half open and relaxed.

Lengthen the spine and relax, tuck the chin down slightly.

Simply notice your thoughts, feelings, sensations and all experience, as each moment passes, with no judgment. Simply be the witness.

When you feel yourself getting caught up in scenarios or thoughts or feeling states, notice or observe them and let them go.

Wait to see what comes next and then treat what comes in the same way

Don’t actively try to bring thoughts up.

If there are blank spaces, allow the mind to rest in those spaces, like pauses

Your thoughts may come as images, simply observe them in a detached manner and release them and wait to see what comes up next.

With practice, you will develop openness of mind and will let go of having judgment of thought. If your find yourself giving preferential treatment to certain thoughts or images such as believing this is good or this is bad, I wish this wasn’t true, simply notice this and let it go.

If you find that certain thought pattern are returning and repeating and are getting n the way, revert back to simple breathing meditation, simply watching the rise and fall of each breath, until you feel calm and centered again.

Each time you notice thoughts or images some into your mind, just let them go. If you are unsure how to let the thoughts or images go, simple take a deep breath in and as you exhale image the thoughts blowing out with the breath. Clearing the slate, clearing the mind.

In your own time, at your own pace, gentle draw your attention back to the body and the breath.

Observe how you are feeling at this time, at this moment.

When you are ready, slowly open your eyes and take in your surroundings.

 

The Inner Critic

The Inner Critic is actually not a single part of you; there can be a number of critical parts that judge you in different ways for different reasons. Below are seven most common types of Inner Critics that people are troubled by.

  • Perfectionist
  • Molder
  • Guilt-Tripper
  • Underminer
  • Taskmaster
  • Controller
  • Destroyer

Descriptions of the Different Types of Inner Critics

Perfectionist:

The Perfectionist Inner Critic believes that if it can always make you do the perfect, best, and right thing you will avoid criticism, judgement, and rejection from others.  

It is constant messages of “That’s not good enough. You have be perfect and make it look easy.”

We don’t often know what the perfect or what the best thing is to do. Those with a history of early childhood attachment trauma can feel like they don’t even know what normal is, let alone perfect!

So, this Perfectionist Inner Critic often results in paralysis and/or procrastination in life. While initially it causes anxiety as a person is driven to perfectionism, this constant sense of failure becomes exhausting, and it can lead to general fatigue, depression, and a case of the I-don’t-care-anymore syndrome.

The Perfectionist Inner Critic can also be the internalized voice of a parent who had perfectionist tendencies. Parents with perfectionist tendencies cause the child to feel like they always have to look good for others.

In its defense, the perfectionist inner critic cares about you and is just trying to protect you from the criticism of others!  

Molder (People Pleaser)

The Molder Inner Critic is similar to the Perfectionist Inner Critic, because it also believes that if you can just appear, think, and do things in the correct or normal way, people will accept and love you.

The Molder Inner Critic wants to mold you into what it thinks other people want and would like.

It is constantly assessing the people around you and trying to figure out who they are and what they want so that it will know how to mold you into something the people will approve of and like.

The end result of the Molder Inner Critic is to have no sense of who you are and what you like. Your Molder Inner Critic has turned you into everybody else. So much so, that you are disconnected from your own feelings, wants and desires, just so that you can be seen as normal and be loved.  

In its defense, the Molder Inner Critic really cares about you and thinks it’s setting you up so that you will belong and be safe with other people.  

Guilt-Tripper:

A Guilt-Tripper Inner Critic is almost always present after experiencing early childhood attachment trauma. It becomes the voice of what you heard from the world (aka your primary caregiver) during your early life.

The messages of the Guilt-Tripper Inner Critic are ones that will tell you, “You are bad. You don’t deserve good things.”

This is exactly the message that’s internalized by an infant and a young child when their parent/primary caregiver is not able to emotionally attune and regulate them.  

Regardless of whether this message was expressed verbally later on in life by a parent (or another person) or earlier in a child’s life, this message is internalized at one’s core as truth when there is inadequate healthy emotional connection between a parent and their infant in the first 12 months of life.  

In its defense, the Guilt-Tripper Inner Critic is trying to protect you from rejection. It believes that if it can keep you from expecting good things out of life and from other people, you will not feel hurt or rejected when good things don’t happen.

Controller:

The Controller Inner Critic is similar to the Guilt-Tripper Inner Critic, because of it makes you feel bad about who you are and your small, everyday choices.

However, the Controller Inner Critic responds to your body and what you eat and drink. It often gives you the message, “You’re disgusting.”

The Controller Inner Critic doesn’t stop there though, it also takes the smallest things you do and tries to control everything in your life. For example: How you answer the phone, how you shake someone’s hand when you first meet, even how much time you spend in a store. Simple things to more complicated areas in your life are being deeply influenced by this critic.  

The Controller Inner Critic can be the internalized voice of a parent who had controlling tendencies. Parents with controlling tendencies cause the child to always be on guard and become very self-conscious about everything they do. Often the child will try to catch things they need to change before their parents notice it.

In its defense, the Controller Inner Critic is also doing what it thinks will help you to be accepted and loved by other people.  

Underminer:

An Underminer Inner Critic is also similar in its message and attempts to protect you as the Guilt-Tripper Inner Critic.  The Underminer Inner Critic specifically tries to keep you from trying new things, advancing in life, and following your dreams. The Underminer Inner Critic gives messages of “You can’t do that.” Yes, it prevents success, but it also avoids failure and rejection.

In its defense, the Underminer Inner Critic attempts to keep you from taking risks, which might result in failure and could bring criticism, judgement, and rejection from other people. It tells you, “You can’t” in order to protect you, because it knows how awful it feels when you’re already hurting inner child feels rejected.

Taskmaster: (Pusher)

The Taskmaster Inner Critic is one that pushes you to always work harder. It doesn’t want you to rest or take time for yourself!

The Taskmaster Inner Critic can drive us to become workaholics, excessive exercisers, or take on any project in an addictive manner. No matter how hard you work at something, it feels like it’s never enough.

The Taskmaster Inner Critic can be the internalized voice of a parent who had Type A personalities and constantly pushed their children to do and accomplish more. Parents with these tendencies cause their child to always need to be “on,” never feeling like they can just relax or just play.

In its defense, the Taskmaster Inner Critic thinks that if it didn’t continually push you to work that you would always play and wouldn’t be able get anything done. It’s doing what it thinks is best to help you succeed in life and relationships.

Destroyer:

The Destroyer Inner Critic is the harshest of all the types of inner critics. It’s especially prominent in children with more severe Attachment Disorder.

The Destroyer Inner Critic is one that tells you, “You don’t have a right to even exist.”  

The Destroyer Inner Critic tries to crush your life force. This can result in suicidal ideation, but often times, it results in a self-hatred that leads to punishment and self-harm.  

The message that “You don’t have a right to exist” is internalized by an infant when there is emotional or physical neglect from a parent. This is perhaps why neglect leads to more severe Attachment Disorder than abuse, because the internalized message from abuse is, “You don’t deserve to be treated well,” whereas the internalized message from neglect is, “You don’t have a right to exist.”

In its defense, Destroyer Inner Critic is also a protective part. It believes that it will be less painful if it destroys you and you inner “weak” child, so that you don’t experience the rejection and abandonment from others that it believes is inevitable.

Summary

Whether you experienced early childhood attachment trauma or not, we all have parts of ourselves.  

Early childhood attachment trauma will cause certain protective parts to over-develop, giving messages of our self-worth throughout our childhood and adulthood life.  

In fact, the amount and the strength of the protective parts, as well as the content of their messages can give us clues into early childhood of which we won’t have any explicit memory of.

Healing from trauma is the process of getting to know ourselves and our parts, especially these strong protective parts who can be very reactive and self-sabotaging.  

Just as with our hurt child parts, in order to heal ourselves it’s imperative that we come to understand and have compassion for our inner protective critics, because their motivations are to keep us safe and protect us. Hatred and judgement for any parts of ourselves will only lead us further down the toxic path of shame and disconnection from ourselves and others.

 

Self-Reflection Questions:

Do you have an active inner critic in your brain?

Which types of inner critics do you identify as parts of yourself?

What have been their messages?

Can you understand and appreciate them for how they have tried to protect you?  

Are you ready to work with them and allow them to relax?

Are you also ready to start to introduce other parts – the inner teacher, inner champion, inner guide, inner cheerleader?

Are you willing to try and understand, embrace and unburden all of your parts from some of the roles they have taken on that they may not want/need any longer?

Multiplicity of the Mind – part 2

Subpersonalities

In an earlier post, I talked about the idea of the Multiplicity of the Mind and ‘parts’ or ‘subpersonalities’. In this post, I would like to talk about some of the examples of ‘parts’ which you may recognise and introduce the idea of how with every ‘part’ there is usually an opposite and look at the idea of ‘primary’ and ‘disowned’ parts; those that we are more aware of and others that think, feel and behave more unconsciously or in Jungian language, the ‘shadow’. 

 

Each of us has a number of subpersonalities, parts or  ‘selves’ that make up our whole personality together. Different selves assume our identity throughout the day, each one taking care of particular aspects of our lives. When you are at work your organised self might be dominant; when you are having a coffee or drink with friends a more carefree self emerges; when you are on holidays your lazy self has its turn; and when you are with your partner you probably access your sensual and sexual selves.

 

We all have our ‘favorites’ which are those selves we use most of the time and by which other people recognise us. These are called ‘primary selves’ while the parts of our personality we hide or are not aware of are our ‘disowned selves.’

 

All the selves within us have their own feelings, sensations, thoughts, opinions, and needs—and they do not always agree. This is why you might feel conflicted about your job, for instance. The part of you who likes order and predictability probably loves it that you work nine-to-five and do the same thing every day. This feels safe and comfortable for that part of you. In contrast, the part of you who loves adventure, excitement and constant change feels awful in that same job. The experience you get from this is that   sometimes you like your job while at other times you hate it—it depends on which self ’s thoughts and feelings are dominant in you at the time.

So sub-personalities always come in pairs. There is always a polar opposite to a sub-personality, although it may be so weak (a disowned self) that it is not noticed, and even when work is first done on sub-personalities it may be difficult to find. However, knowing that there is a polar opposite makes it easy to understand what the traits of the weaker sub-personality are likely to be.

It is due to this imbalance between the polar opposite sub-personalities that issues arise. The dominant one will take over at times when it believes it is needed (i.e. for survival), or at times it is in a situation where is recognises it can meet it’s needs. This can cause a conflict within the personality, where the weaker, polar opposite sub-personality also begins to try and achieve it’s diametrically opposed agenda. A pendulum type effect results, with each sub-personality vying for attention. It can easily be pictured in a classic type view of a devil on one shoulder, and an angel on the other, each whispering into an ear, telling the Self what needs to be done. Confusion results. This is the stage that sub-personalities are dysfunctional, being unbalanced. Often this can lead to an inability to actually achieve anything, where the mind is clouded with the opposing views of each of the sub-personalities, and we can end up “stuck” not knowing which actions are appropriate for us. This is, however, due mainly to the thinking process, where we can see both sides of the argument, both have some merit, but ultimately neither stands out as the thing that must be done for our happiness, welfare and survival. It is the reason why a creative solution must be found, and “And”, which allows us to meet the needs of both sub-personalities to some degree, and start off a transformation process to integrate and synthesis the sub-personalities.

Read some examples of opposite sub-personalities below and see if you can identify your primary and disowned selves. Both sides are described in the most extreme from to fully highlight the key traits.  

Rulemaker

Rigid, unforgiving, inflexible, and tries to exert control as much as possible, over their own life, and those around them. Enjoys checking for mistakes. Needs rules for everything in order to cope with their fears and insecurities.

Someone identified with rules will follow the rules of their family and social group. They will choose a lifestyle that fits in with family and cultural expectations and they will do well in that field. Identifying with this subpersonality leads to acceptance by your family and the wider community to which you belong.

Rebel

Feels entitled, wants to do things their own way, and can’t exercise self-discipline or set limits with themself. The rebel breaks the rules! This personality does the opposite of what is expected by their family and culture. Rebels find their own way of doing things and often rock the boat. The rebel likes to think of itself as having no rules but it does have one golden rule which is to break all the rules.

 

 

Cautious Observer

The observing and cautious self likes to suss out a situation before it takes action. It needs to understand how something works before it participates. It stands back and observes and can be seen as fishy but really just likes to know what is going on.

Spontaneous/Impulsive

The spontaneous self jumps in and participates and then thinks about what it has done later, if at all. It engages with people instantly and takes action quickly. It does not plan or consider consequences of its actions. It is a very ‘enjoy the moment’ self.

 

 

 

Pleaser

The Pleaser is a great personality for others to have around because it makes other people feel so good. It is considerate, kind and helpful. However, it does not get its own needs met and can feel drained from all the energy it gives to others.

Selfish

The selfish self considers only itself. It makes sure its needs are met – it always comes first. It does not care about other people’s needs and has no qualms about stepping over others for its own interests. The selfish self rarely becomes tired or sick because it makes sure its needs are always met, and it does set great boundaries.

 

Pusher

This is the force which propels us to action. Someone with a strong pusher will get many things done. The pusher is constantly on the go and is always thinking about what needs doing next. Nothing is ever finished—there is always more to do on its list. It leads to high achievement and high energy but unchecked leaves a person stressed, tense and unable to relax. Pushers are unable to enjoy their achievements because they never stop long enough to do so.

Being

The being self is still. It is focused in the moment. There is nothing to do and nowhere to go. This is a restful place where you can recharge your batteries. Time seems to stand still and you feel relaxed and alert if you are a being personality. This is a nice balance to the pusher but if you are always being you are not doing and therefore will not get much done.

 

Perfectionist

The perfectionist makes sure everything is perfect. Perfectionists look over everything they do countless times and they keep improving. They can stand in front of the mirror for hours doing their makeup and they can get stuck on one task at work, redoing and revising until everything is just right. Perfectionists find it difficult to finish things and can take so much time doing one small thing.

Slob

The slob does not have any standards. Everything is fine as it is. Mistakes are not a problem, mess is not noticed. You would not want this self performing brain surgery but it is easy-going and relaxed compared to the uptightness of an absolute perfectionist.

 

Personal

If you are personal then you connect with people warmly and openly. You like being in close contact with people and you share your feelings and thoughts easily. People feel like

you are present with them. This can feel good but it also leaves you with no boundaries and can drain your energy.

Impersonal

If you are impersonal you are cool and more distant. You connect with people but on a more mental level. You can discuss ideas and share thoughts but not feelings. Impersonality gives you objectivity and allows you to maintain you own space. A great self to use in business and when you do not want to take on other people’s ‘stuff ’.

 

Critic

We all have one an unfortunately most of us become victim to our own inner critic. The critic points out our weaknesses, flaws, mistakes, and generally anything less than perfect about us—yet perfection, even by its own admission— we can never achieve. A great friend of the perfectionist and pusher, the critic keeps us trying harder and harder. Then directed outwards, this self is a judge. The judge looks on others and does to them what the critic does internally to us.

Inner Teacher

This part of us has wisdom, it is supportive and it is on our side. It sees the lessons we can learn from our lives and reveals these to us. Being identified with this self, you would be compassionate towards yourself and others. You might be seen as a wise being who is full of acceptance and good advice.

 

Spiritual

The spiritual self is concerned with matters of spirit. It may have experienced extraordinary things and have a connection with spirit, or it may have a strong desire for spiritual experiences and so follows particular practices to lead to such experiences, or it may be expressed in a more traditional religious way, following the rules of an organised religion. Either way, its focus is on a god or ultimate energy of some kind, and it often does not value very highly everyday matters of life on earth.

Earthly

The earthly self is interested in the here and now. It is concerned with the material world, but is not necessarily materialistic, and usually identifies with being atheist. Philosophically it is more of an empiricist, valuing direct experience through the physical senses. The earthly self is also concerned with very earthly things like the environment, sustaining life, the practicalities of life such as food, shelter and family life.

 

Feelings

The feeling self feels. It picks up what other people feel, it is affected by events and people, and it expresses emotions easily. The feeling self is more connected to the body than the mind – feelings are often felt throughout your whole body. The thoughts of the feeling self are mainly about feelings and they can be muddled by the feelings that accompany them.

Mind

If you are identified with the mind, you think. A mental person analyses, woks out solutions, thinks abstractly. The mind is impersonal and objective. It is not concerned with the experience of feelings and relating to others, but it can analyse feelings and relationships. We all have a mind but some of us are more mental than others—in more ways than one!

Outgoing

The outgoing self is focused outside itself. It interacts with people easily and talks out

its ideas with others rather than spending time looking inward. It is friendly and very comfortable with other people. It is confident and sure of itself. It has a strong, resilient nature.

Shy

The shy personality is not confident with other people or in groups. It is quiet and soft and more sweet. They shy self is introverted and feels as though it is hiding. It is often perceived more negatively than the outgoing self in our culture but it has the qualities of sweetness and sensitivity.

 

Perhaps you identify with some, perhaps not with others. Or perhaps they are out of awareness or disowned! Internal conflict often occurs when we deny, repress one side and stay too much in the other. As with most things, balance is the key and a compassionate attitude to all aspects of ourselves and others as unique and flawed (and uniquely flawed!) human beings.