Shame as the source of the self critical voice


In this blog post I invite you to look at shame as the emotion that fuels the self critical voice.


Here’s what can also be so insidious about shame. When you start making great progress, shame can sneak right back in and create road-blocks in our projects.


First, let’s look at some essential characteristics of shame.


Shame is about vision. Shame is about being seen, or about not wanting to be seen.


Shame can be so debilitating for two main reasons. One, it can lead a person to believe their entire self is bad. And two, shame can make someone fear being fully and truly seen by others.


But here’s the thing – even though shame can be destructive, it can also serve a purpose.


Babies don’t feel shame. Shame comes only at the age when children begin to walk. As soon as they have that ability to explore, they have that ability to endanger themselves.


Shame arises as a survival response, as a parasympathetic break that causes the child’s body to pause. And we’ve all seen this — toddlers who approach the stove, and they’re saying, “Hot! Hot!” as they reach out to touch the stove. What inhibits the child’s reaching or touching or doing something dangerous is the experience of shame. Because parents say, “No, no, no, don’t touch that,” and the baby pauses and pulls the hand back and turns away in the universal gesture and posture of shame.


Say the child was shamed in school for being too loud by the teachers who said, “You have to be quieter.” So, the loud exuberant part of them, that was news to them, that, “Oh, this is not okay. It’s not okay for me to be excited or loud or happy.” And they take that in, in that setting. A protective part comes up who starts to shame them if that loud part comes out again. If I’m too happy, there’s a part who comes in and says, “Stop it. You’re embarrassing yourself. You’re bad.”


And so that external interaction has been taken inside and becomes an internal interaction that goes on relentlessly and becomes an inhibiting force in a person's life. So that would be a proactive protective part who is trying to make sure that this child isn’t embarrassed again or demeaned by somebody for that feature.


At first glance, these behaviors might seem like self-sabotage. But if we take a closer look, we can see that these behaviors are actually acts of self-preservation. In other words, one part of you is working to protect another more vulnerable, fragile part.


Your childhood shame was actually heroic.


And it's just one aspect of who you are.


It is a desire for safety that drives your inner critic, this part works to protect you.


So open up to the idea of working with your inner critic instead of against it.


One of the keys to managing an inner critic is letting it do its job as a protective part, but teaching it how to do so in a healthy, functional way.