These past day, few things occurred in my life where I was invited to think a lot about the feeling of shame and I wanted to share with everyone what I have learned about shame in my Bodynamic Shock Trauma (PTSD) course to put it into more perceptive because I think it can benefit more people.
The general definition of feeling of shame as per the Oxford Dictionary is as follows: “a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior.” I am convinced that most of us have already felt this feeling as we may have done something wrong or foolish at some point in our life time or even many times and recognized our action too late for which we had to apologize. It is even healthy to be able to feel shame as opposed to not be able to have this feeling at all. If someone isn’t able to feel shame in appropriate situations, they most likely lack the ability to feel empathy as well. I don’t want to go deeper into explaining the inability of feeling shame in this particular thread beside stating this fact as it’s a very complex subject, but I wanted to clear first that healthy shame does exist for all of us before I dive more into the unhealthy part of shame and also a differentiation between the Red and White shame.
What I have learned in my Bodynamic course is that Red Shame can be healthy as I already described above and the reason why it is called red, is because our blood rushes due to a temporary feeling of embarrassment. It is very important to emphasize that Red Shame is associated to a wrong or foolish ‘’act’’ to which a person becomes conscious about which usually results in an apology so that the repair can happen in the connection or relationship where it has occurred. Where Red Shame can turn into being unhealthy, is when the individual feels shame for doing a foolish act but becomes stuck in this feeling and cannot get out of it and complete the cycle of repair, which is learn from it and move on. Now there are many reasons in our coding system that can explain why some people are incapable of overcoming this feeling and currently I will not tackle those here because it can go on forever. My main suggestion for those who struggle with this feeling is to find a Bodynamic therapist and work on this issue for a time. With the help of a therapist it is possible to learn how to develop the missing resources that can help overcome this perpetual feeling that is weighting people down.
Like if Red Shame and being sometimes stuck in it wasn’t already enough to handle in our complex human emotional system, there is also another level of Shame that comes into this convolution and it is the White Shame which I will also call Identity Shame. White Shame is the most undesirable kind of shame because it is internalized by the individual as being part of their identity. As opposed to “I have done a shameful act” or “I have done something wrong”, which can be repaired, it is experienced as “I am shame” or “I am bad” and the action isn’t separated from the individual, which cannot be repaired. This feeling is often developed in children if parents repetitively are shaming children in such a way where there is a clear lack of separation between the action the child did and their identity. A simple example would be; telling children that they ARE bad, which is White Shaming them and creating Identity Shame rather than telling them that they have DONE something bad, which can be repaired and it doesn’t mean that they are bad individuals all together.
To expand more on White Shame I am going to use the War Veterans as an example. What happens in war is mostly all traumatic and terrible and inhuman for all parties involved and soldiers happen to do things in war that are often extremely hard to live with for the rest of their lives. I can barely put myself in their shoes, but I can only imagine the amount of shame and guilt that they carry with themselves from these traumatic experiences. Yet, when they return home, they are often welcomed in their countries like heroes and given badges for their bravery, which they deserve, but at the same time feel extremely conflictual considering the situation. Let me try to explain this part further. We are giving medals to war veterans for performing acts for which they feel a tremendous amount of shame and more often than not, these feelings are internalized as White Shame due to Shock Trauma, which is the feeling that they ARE wrong and bad individuals. It is extremely hard not to be dragged into a deep turmoil of conflict after such experiences and to live life thinking that they are GOOD individuals after they have done horrible things. It is also not exactly intuitive to receive praise and rewards for actions that are deeply shameful. What is really sad is that War Veterans suffer a lot from these experiences and what they mostly need is a lot of support in dealing with all these feelings when they come home, however not many support systems are equipped well enough to understand the depth of White Shame. It is actually a real problem with war veterans across the world. Shame is real and being identified with it does not help one to have a normal life without turmoil.
I also want to point out that while Red Shame is conscious in the ego system of the individual, White Shame is usually not conscious and part of one’s instinct and simply leaves one lifeless. For this reason it is not possible to resolve White Shame while it is internalized as being part of ones identity. Bodynamic Shock Trauma Therapists have a beautiful way of working with people who are stuck with this issue where they first of all have to bring the White Shame from the instinct level to become Red Shame at the ego level because until a person is identified with shame, there is no opportunity for repair and moving forward. For this exact reason, no one can work on White Shame on their own, there is a need for support from a therapist too do so.
To bring all things together, the reason why I am talking about this topic, is to bring awareness about what Shame is and what it can do to people to also bring more awareness about what people choose to put down and shame in their talk. An obvious example of shaming an individual’s identity rather than their actions is using the skin colour which pertains to race. Skin colour is not something that we can change or something that we choose to be born with. It is beyond one’s control and if it's put down in any shape of form it can only result in people feeling Identity Shame as opposed to feeling shame for an act they did wrong. The most common example that I have seen lately is seeing people use the words “White Privilege” globalizing an entire race into one generalization in various posts on social media without any empathy or consideration for people’s individual circumstances and life events beside their skin colour. In my point of view this is completely wrong and it can have a lot of consequences for so many people on a social and individual level.
My final conclusion, it is completely fine to point out someone’s wrong doings as long as the action is specifically identified to people who have done it using facts and take it as an opportunity for growth and repair, but speaking negatively about any aspects of people’s identity which fundamentally cannot be changed can have profound negative consequences especially if they are allowed in our society and become a norm. All lives matter and no one should feel bad or shame for fundamental circumstances they are born in beyond their control which is part of their identity. And lastly, please spread the word because we don’t want to continue the cycle of Identity Shame that has been circulating throughout history and multiple generations across the planet in human kind. We can be part of the problem or choose to be part of the solution and my hope is that more people will become part of the solution rather than perpetuating this never ending problem.