Shame: the ups and downs
This is an ABC podcast. Hello eats, only in the mind on our in. I'm Lynn Malcolm with the brand new lineup of programs for twenty nine teen exploring, the brain the mind and human behavior. Today, some difficult emotions that aren't often talked about and this is what they physically feel like in your body. The classic symptoms are gays version, you often drop your head and look away. You have a brief confusion of thought there's a desire to escape, and it's usually accompanied by feeling of heat blushes in the face, neck or chest. And as I said, those could be really mild, and fleeting just just to second. And they're gone or they could just go on and on in a way that feels like torment, Dr Joseph Burgo clinical psychologist, and author is talking about shame, which is also the title of his latest book. Most of us try to avoid feeling a sense of shame. But Joseph Burgo suggests that if we can gain a bitter insight into it. We can use shame. As a tool to help us understand our selves and our relationship with others. Joe at the beginning of the book, you talk about how people tend to perceive shame and embarrassment as two quite distinct. Emotions shame being more potent destructive emotion embarrassment being perhaps more minor or trivial head you understand or conceive. Shame as a spectrum, I guess promotions. I think of shame as a family of emotions they all share a painful awareness of self. So the shame family of emotions are all those feelings where we feel bad about ourselves. It could be very brief and mild, we call that embarrassment or it could be deep and lasting. We call that humiliation. But they all share this painful awareness of self that is when we feel an emotion. The shame family are self comes into focus in a way that feels bad, and I will say an advance that human beings everywhere in every. Culture and on every continent. Feel shame in exactly this same way. So it's genetically encoded we all feel at the same way in your work as analyst what areas of people's lives. Do you see shame manifest most everywhere? Really the whole middle of the book is addressing the ways that shame shows up in people's lives in ways that it doesn't necessarily look like shame. So what we call social anxiety would be better thought of as shaming Zaidi and people spend a lot of time trying to avoid feeling that way. So they become withdrawn they become shut-ins. They become very shy. That's one way it shows up in relationships. People avoid the possibility of rejection, you know, that would be shaming. That would be hurtful. It would make you feel like you're unworthy. So people become. On the one hand relationship phobic or they become promiscuous. Those are ways that you avoid exposing yourself to the possibility of shame addiction is a lot about managing. Shame. Specially alcoholism alcohol is this a psychoanalyst. Donald Nathanson who says that the primary purpose of alcohol is to release us from the bonds of shame. So people who indulge in alcohol and other kind of drugs often use it as a way to manage feelings of shame. I could go on and on. But that's the whole middle of the book is about all the different ways that shame shows up in people's lives that doesn't necessarily look like shame. So you talk about avoidance of shame denial of shame and control of shame all that's leading to some sort of will in some cases are mental illness. I think we all to some degree try to avoid shame. Most of us will deny. Shame at one time or another and we also try to control shame those are to some degree normal. It's when they become chronic and pervasive attempts to manage the experience of shame to such an extent they define our lives in our personalities, then they result in these mental disorders, addiction, social anxiety masochism self hatred. These are ways in which the avoidance strategies, the controlling strategies come to dominate people to such an extent that it becomes pathological. Joseph Burgo has worked as a soccer therapist in private practice forever. Thirty five years to illustrate how shame can be at the core of emotional difficulty in people's lives. He describes the case of one of his patients who experienced social anxiety a client who came to me pretty much paralyzed by social anxiety. She was a. Technical writer. So she was able to work from home a lot. She didn't have to have encounters with clients a lot and she'd managed to organize her life to such agree that she minimized contact with other people. So she could have her groceries delivered her laundry picked up and returned. She she really had become shut in because just about any encounter with other people made her so uncomfortably self conscious that she couldn't bear it. That's I think the fairly typical scenario for people who struggle with extreme social anxiety, and our work together was a lot about helping her to come into contact with the shame that she was avoiding and to learn gradually over time. How to bear it how to be brave really and to go out into the world and in counter shame and to find that she wasn't destroyed by it as she feared. So that's a very typical scenario. And so you've written about how shame can be connected to out early life experie-. Ince's and early emotional development. How does our relationship without parents as children inform how we feel about our selves as adults specifically in relation to feelings of shame. I think there's two ways the most obvious way that will be familiar to people is when you have parents who are particularly shaming in their child rearing techniques where they humiliate their children that correct them too harshly this instils feelings of defect unworthiness, and then in later life, you become very self protective, you either try to avoid encounters with shame with other people you become perfectionist stick to try to avoid any experience of correction that could be shaming. But our parents child rearing practices the way they use. Shame to socialize us. We'll have a lasting effect on us the more profound way. And this is something I've talked about in all of my books, and I've worked with in my practices, something I call core. Shame and course, shame takes hold in the first month. And a couple of years of life. When parenting goes absolutely wrong. When there's a parent who's addicted to drugs when there's incredible violent discord in the household when there's an early death when parents are just unable to fulfil their duties to parent, then the child is left with the feeling of ugliness defect and damage that I call core shame. The thing is we're born into this world with an innate need an expectation to be loved and adored by our parents in a stage appropriate way during that first year of life where parents are infatuated with their babies babies kind of the come into the world expecting that. And it turns out their brains actually need the hormones that are released during joyful interaction to develop. Normally, so joy interpersonal joy is. Crucial during that first year of life for the brain to develop normally if it's grossly deficient for the reasons already mentioned, then instead of having this basic sense of self worth that instilled during that first year of life, you have this feeling of course, shame defect damage ugliness that can last a lifetime. These important relationship between the way, we manage the emotions of shame and feelings of self worth or self-esteem says Joseph Burgo, you know, I think there's a common misperception that shame and self esteem are pretty much opposites and that shame for instance, in child rearing has no place. If you wanna bring up children who feel good about themselves that turns out not to be true in order to understand how crucial shame is you. Once again have to kind of let go of this idea of shame as this huge toxic horrible experience and think about it as this whole spectrum of emotions that I've been talking about. So for instance, after that first year of joyful interaction. It turns out that in the second and third years of life for babies brains to develop normally they need exposure. To mildly shaming experiences. And by that, I don't mean humiliation. I mean things like mummy is talking to adele's. Mommy right now. Please don't interrupt. It's not nice to take toys away from other children give it back to Stephen, wait. Your turn. These mild reprimands are in the spectrum of shaming experiences, and they release cortisol people might be familiar with cortisol corticosteroids their stress hormones, and the fascinating thing is it turns out for brain to develop to continue normally in the second and third years of life. We need optimal mounts of cortisol. So big surprise. We actually need mildly shaming experiences if we're to develop normally it helps us to socialize that it's it helps us to get control over our impulses. So. So that we can live in, you know, in a community in which our needs aren't always paramount when other people matter, and we have to take them into account too. So we're relying on skillful sensitive parenting. That isn't always repping yo child in cotton wool. Exactly, exactly. In fact, that you do them a disservice. If you wrap them in cotton wall, there's been some wonderful books that have been written over the last few years about what's happened in the universe. Self esteem movement and parenting styles that have been affected by it and contrary to what you might have expected. We have brought up a generation of kids who feel great about themselves. Instead, we've brought up a generation of kids who are kind of narcissistic, you know, who don't take criticism. Well, they don't deal with frustration. Will they kind of expect to get what they want when they want it. They focused too much on themselves, and they want to be focus of attention. They don't deal. Well, with the fact that. Other people have needs to so shame in the good sense. The good shame. I know. That's might sound. Like an oxymoron, but good. Shame helps people to live in a world in which other people matter to you with all in the mind on Aren. I'm Lynn, Malcolm. I'm speaking with Dr Joseph, boo, go clinical psychologist and author. He's latest book is about shame. Joseph Google has also written extensively on narcissism. He's previous book is called the NAS assist. You know, he says people tend to use three main strategies to manage difficult, shameful emotions. They try to avoid them control them or deny them. Nassir season is a common method for denying. Narcissists people have narcissistic tendencies typically deal with shame with a trio of defense mechanisms first of all they denied that they have any reason to feel shame. They tend to blame other people treat them with contempt and feel indignant in the face of being criticized all of this is an effort to sort of bad away to deny any feelings of shame and really to inflict to them on other people. Research. Professor Brenna Brown is well known for who work in the area regime. She focuses largely on external forces of social shame things like how is supposed to look and feel and what the damaging fictive disease had we challenged. Shame that is imposed on us by society. Well, first of all, I think you you need to read her books to do that. I think her books are fabulous forgiving guidance in that particular aspect of powder. Stand up to what she calls these social community expectations that are perfectionist stick and kind of impossible to reconcile. I think she has a lot of great guidance. My caveat there is I don't want people to become too defiant. Shame defiance is sort of a necessary stage in reacting to this kind of shame. But you also need to go on to develop authentic sources of self esteem to build pride in addition to simply saying I will not feel ashamed because you tell me off too. That's the first step crucial. Then you have to go on to build pride as the core of self esteem. That's the whole subject of the last third of my book. Wave of sexual harassment scandals in recent times in the era of may two has seen. Shame and humiliation on show very publicly what you get from Shiming booze who have roamed us, oh behaved immorally house, shaming controlling force in society. This is a fascinating area of research. There's been studies that have come out recently to talk about the evolutionary value of shame. I mean, really if shame is this horrible, toxic painful feeling why did evolution in it in our James. Why do we all have the ability to feel shame? It turns out that shame. If all during the long millennia when we were living, primarily in small tribal groups, and that closely adhering to the standards and expectations of the tribe were necessary. If the tribe was going to survive, so if you disobeyed the tribal injunctions against certain behavior, if you didn't share food or if you didn't cooperate with other members of the tribe in hunting and gathering. Well, then you would be exposed to shame. You might be shunned. This is such a painful experience that people natch. Really try to avoid it so avoiding that experience of shame can lead you to conform to tribal expectations. This is still true today. Societies all over the world make use of shame to enforce their particular sets of values and expectations. Sometimes that can be drawn overly narrow like here in the United States during the nineteen fifties when role expectations were very narrow and overly shaming. So that people were made miserable by them. They can go too far but often having appropriate role expectations and shaming those who deviate from them as an expression of our cultural values, so shaming people in the metoo movement were saying, maybe we would say now, it is no longer, okay? For men in power to exploit that power to manipulate and use women as sexual. Objects, and therefore because we feel that way it is appropriate to shame them publicly as an expression of our values. I think the challenge here is not to make the shame and public humiliation into a vindictive effort to destroy those men as understandable as that feeling might be in the history of shame as a social influence. It has almost always been used with the idea that there's an end to it. And if you express remorse and then conform to societal expectation. You will be welcomed back in to the fold. I think that's how shame can be the most effective when it's not vindictive. And when it contains the possibility of forgiveness, but often the perpetrator doesn't acknowledge that shine. There are some really great examples. One of them. Is the president of the United States? You know, Harvey Weinstein is another one these people who are who they continue in in the narcissistic mode of denial of shame. I have nothing to feel ashamed about because. I did nothing wrong. And you people are to blame for whatever reason. I hold you in contempt. And I'm in didn't that these charges were brought against men. I'll fight them with every ounce of my being that's not remorse. So those people do not deserve forgiveness, and they do not deserve to be reintegrated into society. And in many cases pets those people resort to shaming others to read themselves of their own shame. I think that's that's absolutely true. That's I guess we would call that projection. I think that's one of the primary methods that narcissists use for coping with their own. Shame is by projecting it into other people humiliating them. And then making them feel like losers. That's what bullying. About really I've written a lot about that in my last book. And also in various articles that the bully is really someone who comes to the scene with a lot of shame police do not come from healthy backgrounds in which they were loved by their parents, and they feel good about themselves. They're people who are burdened by a lot of shame and their strategy is to identify a target often. Somebody who's already struggling with shame and then to try and unload or offload all of their shame into that person by victimizing them, humiliating them, excluding them from peer groups. So yes, you know, getting rid of your shame by projecting. It onto other people is a primary strategy and narcissism they has been a sense in recent years. I think that Naseem is rising in society. Do you believe that that's the case? I do I very much do, and there are many reasons why that so I think it has a lot to do with the rise of social media, and this relentless expectation that you will appear publicly in a way that makes your life. Look as if while you're a winner, you're leading this fabulous life, and you're under constant scrutiny. You're constantly aware that other people are posting pictures on Instagram their fabulous life and their incredible meals and their vacations, you know, in an idealized way, it's very easy to feel like everyone else's leading this glamorous life in that. You're just a loser. So you become driven to prove that that's not true and to constantly demonstrate that you too are leading this incredible life. Look at me it Meyer me, I also think that in a way that parents use. Use of electronic devices their absorption in their phones. And I pause in the ipads when they're around their children. I find this really disturbing to see parents out with their children, and instead of interacting in this this joyful way. I've been talking about this face to face joyful expression of love for one another. They're on their phones. You know, they're preoccupied. They're not making that baby. Feel like she's the center of the universe in a way. And it may not lead to coercion that kind of devastating. Shame that I was talking about earlier on. But I think it does lead to some kind of shame. It's like, why am I not getting my parents attention? Is there something wrong with me? And my unlovable is there's something defective about me. And that in the way that narcissism is the defense against cork. Shame. I think narcissistic tendencies come to the rescue. When there's this kind of feeling of emptiness in. Unworthiness left behind by parents who just kind of are often their own world, not paying attention to you. So what determines how individuals respond to shine? I think it has to do with their personal level of self esteem. Someone who is already struggling with shame someone who's on the narcissism spectrum they will respond in a defensive way instantly to any kind of perceived attack. Which is the way they experienced shame anything that stirs up. Shame is an attack, and they will retaliate. Some people will be people who are more in the controlling shame spectrum. They might take delivery of that shaming experience, and then go onto brutalize themselves with it really just sorta to maximize it, but in a way to take control over and internalize it, so they're the ones who are shaming themselves. I think a really healthy response. The response of somebody who is able to manage shame without destroying their sense of self worth is humor. I've noticed in my work and in my research. Narcissists have zero sense of humor about themselves. I think it's a it's a characteristic feature and to me a defining sign of healthy self esteem is the ability to laugh at yourself to see. Okay. I'm not so perfect. I'm actually kind of funny, and it's okay to laugh at myself because I'm still a worthwhile person. It doesn't destroy me to see that. I'm imperfect. So why is it that we fund shame so difficult to acknowledge oh, confront more? So perhaps than other uncomfortable feelings like anger rule hurtle pain. Oh, shame hurts. You know, it really does other feelings like anger or sadness they hurt too. But there's something about the focus on ourselves. That makes shame feelings, particularly excruciating. I think I also think there's a there's a message out there in society that there's something shameful about feeling ashamed. Many shame researchers have pointed out that we're shamed of feeling ashamed. And I want to tell people don't feel ashamed of feeling shame. That's just normal. Everybody feels his shamed. From time to time, and you know, instead of denying it or running from it, you know, tune into it see what it's telling you about yourself use it as an opportunity to grow. We don't tain to talk about shame. What do you hope that by focusing on shame? It will help us. To overcome the sense of peps NAS Tatum in society. Well, most of our I want to change the conversation about shame because shame is like it is a word that is everywhere in the media. But it's always in this really negative punitive destructive way. And I want to show people that yes, that's shame. But shame is also much more than that. And it's an inevitable part of daily life. It's a lot of what preoccupies us, even if we're not aware of it. So we're always trying to avoid rejection. We're trying to anticipate criticism were trying to avoid feeling left out or excluded. All of these potential ways, we can feel bad about ourselves. Those are varieties of shame. And if I can help people to say, these are inevitable parts of my life, and I have to learn how to manage them rather than running from them. Rather than avoiding them rather than denying them that will help me to become more resilient in my life. It'll help me to deal with criticism better. It'll help me feel better about myself. And then the other thing I would like is for people to understand that. Shame isn't always a negative experience that sometimes shame has a lesson to teach us about who we are. And who we expect ourselves to be? And if we can tune into those experiences, if we can if we can bear feeling shame too because we let ourselves down in some way. Well, then maybe we can work harder. Maybe weakened strive to be the person we want to be and these will all contribute to our feelings of self respect. If we deal with every encounter with shame by batting it away and denying that we feel shame. Well, we lose an opportunity to grow to build pride. And to feel better about ourselves as a result. Dr Joseph Burgo clinical psychologist. He's recent books. Shame and the nasty. No published by pan, MacMillan, Australia. Thanks to produce it. Diane, Dane and especial. Thanks and to phone goodbye. To sound engineer. Judy rep leading it's been great to work with her. She's one of the best Omni, Malcolm hetch next time. You've been listening to an ABC podcast. Discover more great ABC podcasts. Live radio and exclusives. On the IB say listen up.