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Fear of being SHAMED

Fear of being criticised, fear of making a mistake, fear of being wrong, fear of being laughed at, fear of being rejected, fear of not belonging, fear of being abandoned, fear of being alone, fear of not being liked, fear of what people think, fear of being judged, fear of looking stupid, fear of not being good enough, fear of not being deserving enough. Fear of being a fraud…

How many of you have felt the above fears? How many feel these fears on a daily basis? It does not take much to trigger it and we are hyper-vigilant about keeping these fears away. What is common in all these fears is SHAME. I started off wanting to do a piece on fear in women, only to realise that what many of us are carrying is a fear of being Shamed.

What is shame then? Shame can be defined as a feeling of embarrassment or humiliation that arises in relation to the perception of having done something dishonourable, immoral or improper. Shame is an evolutionary tool to keep us all in check. So if you look at all the fears above, what arises within us is shame. For example, when we are criticised, we feel (our perception) that we have done something wrong; when we are rejected, we feel (our perception) that it is our fault. Our reaction in most cases is that that we have done something wrong, something unacceptable.

I came across a list of self-defeating shame reactions according to psychiatrist Peter Briggins in his book Guilt, Shame and Anxiety.

· Feeling sensitive

· Feeling unappreciated

· Feeling used

· Feeling rejected

· Feeling like you have little impact

· Being worried what others think of you

· Worrying that you are not treated with respect

· Feeling like others take advantage of you

· Wanting to have the last word

· Not sharing your thoughts or feelings because you are afraid to be embarrassed

· Being afraid to look inappropriate or stupid

· Being a perfectionist

· Feeling like an outsider or that you are different or left out

· Feeling suspicious or like you can’t trust others

· Not wanting to be the center of attention

· Wanting to shut people out or withdraw

· Feeling like you can’t be your true self

· Feeling inadequate

For me a lot of the above show up as fear. I now see that it is the fear of being shamed. Once we perceive the danger of being shamed, we either make ourselves small and conceal ourselves for self-protection or we may apologise and avoid conflict. We smile, people please, and/or not share our thoughts. These are all forms of self-protection.

The first way to heal the fear of shame is to explore it. What are your perceived, wrong ways, of behaving? What are your perceived ways of how one should show up? Many of us, as girls, were subconsciously groomed to what is acceptable and unacceptable behaviour. We were taught “perfection”, to be nurturers, to be generous and not selfish, to be “good” girls and not be “troublesome”. Many of these programming lead us to feel shame with these unwritten rules we have in our head. Thus, get awareness of what rules you have in your head.

Once, you identify shame, name it and embrace it. It will hold less fear within you. Surround yourself with trusted people who will understand your shame and show yourself compassion. Compassion and shame cannot exist together. Thus, bring compassion forward and shame will have to leave. As you go through this process, it’s important to re-examine your beliefs and attitudes about yourself. This is the time to start rejecting old beliefs that there is inherently something wrong with you when you make a mistake or are criticised etc.

Instead, it’s time to create and accept your new reality that you are acceptable and lovable just as you are.

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