LET'S TALK TODAY 602.975.4305

The Nine Rules of Shame

Shame typically involves being observed disapprovingly by others. Shame can hold us hostage to the unrealistic and hurtful standards of others.

Shame in a family, organization, or group involves the leaders openly criticizing another for a failure to live up to accepted norms or values.  Shame tells the one shamed that they are deserving of criticism and disapproval.

Shame is painful and terribly uncomfortable. It is a loud booming voice shouting to the world that the shamed person is inadequate, deficient, embarrassing, or unworthy. The powerful feeling of shame involves being drastically diminished, made smaller, and  lacking in dignity. Shame hits square in the face and unexpectedly.

While guilt focuses on the performance of an action, shame focuses on the self as a whole.

 Guilt refers to what I have done while shame refers to who I am.

A shame based person, family, organization, or relationship is necessarily rigid in order to self-perpetuate it's own rules.

The following nine rules are tools shame based people use that are designed to give a sense of security, power, safety, and predictability. The senses engendered by the rules are false. Rather than alleviate shame, they perpetuate shame.

The first rule of shame is control.

Control over all behaviors and interactions, those of one's self and others, is imperative. Control is meant as a cloak to hide the parts of the self that are undeserving of acceptance and love.

In an effort to control, the presentation of the self and those with whom the self identifies, is highly curated to control the appearance of mistake, weakness, or problem.  Believing control will prevent or fix a problem cements the shame based person in the story of their or an other's shame in order to control it.

Demands for respect are made to override internal feelings of lacking respect.

Control is both overt and covert. Overt control involves physically and/or emotionally aggressive behavior to make others do what needs to be done to maintain order and an image.  Covert control is indirect or passive aggressive and often involves manipulation, sarcasm, playing the victim, or guilting others to get another to do or be who you want them to be.

The second rule of shame is perfectionism.

Perfectionism demands projecting to the outside world the image of living in accordance with what the perfect family made up of perfect people should be.

Erik Erickson described shame as rage turned against the self. 

The shame-based person has been taught that they and others must be correct and  never make mistakes. Judgement is passed upon others who view them with disapproval. Self criticism is used to ensure being "right" and always "doing the right thing" in order to sustain value in the world.

Since the perfect image is impossible to maintain, shame leaves the shamed feeling deficient, full of flaw, and incompetent.  This leads to putting on a facade or mask that attempts to tell the world that the masked image is who the person really is.

The third rule of shame is blame.

Control and perfectionism always break down, thereby activating the third rule of shame: blame. Shame requires we judge and then blame ourselves and others when events or feelings don't go as planned. The question arises, "Who would perform such an action?" The answer is either ourselves or another who we find unworthy of respect and worthy of blame. The legacy of blame is constant comparison to others.

The fourth rule of shame is denial.

Denial of negative feelings and feelings of vulnerability occurs in an effort to will them out of existence. Fear, sadness, hurt, and anxiety challenge the image of the perfect person who has it all together.

The shame-based ideal is to be self sufficient. This means that shame demands we act free of needs. You are not allowed to ask for help, emotional support, or love and if you do you are viewed by self and other shame based persons as weak. This level of responsibility prevents spontaneity and is severely limiting of options for living.

The fifth rule of shame is unreliability.

Shame calls for interpersonal separation and distance from others. Others are not to be trusted because their approval is not predictable or expected to be constant.

Relationships with others are conditional. One can't count on others to be there unless they embody who the other wants them to be. Perfectionist expectations are a constant threat to the relationship and abandonment is always felt as a real possibility.

Not wanting to be rejected or abandoned breeds people-pleasing behaviors and codependency as shame requires your own feelings mirror those of the person you feel you must please.

The sixth rule of shame is incompleteness.

While guilt tells us to act in order to fix a wrong action, shame tells us to hide because the wrong is who we are. Bringing transactions to resolution or completion opens the self to feelings or revelations that are to be protected against. Incompleteness serves to make sure secrets are not let out. A shame-based person avoids resolving interpersonal conflicts, opting instead to act like issues don't exist or pushing them under the rug. Resentment and mistrust pervade shame-based relationships.

 The seventh rule of shame is not talking.

Shameful, abusive, or compulsive behaviors or feelings are not to be discussed. Shame is experienced as inner torment, disappointment in one's self, feeling a lack of dignity and worth. To express anger, one must be willing to be seen. The shamed person lacks license for anger.

In a shame based system, one must never discuss mistakes, weakness, addictions, or humiliations because to do so will only create even more shame, punishment, and humiliation. Because there is no talk about feelings, wants, and needs, interpersonal relationships become empty, hollow, and distant.

The eighth rule of shame is disqualification.

When disrespectful, shameful, abusive, or compulsive behaviors occur, the eighth rule of shame calls upon the shamed to disqualify, deny, disguise, or make excuses for them. Shame demands distortion of the facts in order to deny or make excuses for unacceptable behavior. Messages hide reality and create chaos and instability.

The ninth rule of shame is comparison.

We force ourselves to see ourselves as others who judge see us. Acute fear or awareness of not measuring up, prompts endless comparison with others. In comparing, the shame based person sheds light on being unaccomplished, attractive, or smart or that they have a level of privilege that means they do not deserve to feel the way they do.  The differences between us and the others we seek to emulate become deficiencies or may leave us feeling superior to others who do not live up to expectations.

Shame is passed down in families consciously and subconsciously. It can arise from religious beliefs or practices or gender roles. We learn these patterns very early in our lives in order to develop morally. Some shame is good. But if shame leaves you feeling that you are defective or not OK, you may be experiencing excessive shame.

We can stop perpetuating excessive shame in ourselves and others with intention and mindfulness. 

Notice the ways in which you shame yourself.

Begin to recognize shame in your inner life and outer life.

Notice if you hear your inner voice saying things like:

  • “That was stupid! I can’t believe I said that!”
  • "I am always 10% too much for everyone."
  • “Who would want to talk to you?”
  • “You look awful today!”
  • “You’ll never be as good as the other students in this class.”
  • "Nobody will ever love someone like you."
  • "You are meant to be alone."

These are shaming statements toward ourselves.

Listen carefully for the internal shaming statements in your life,  so you can change them.

We may ask ourselves some questions in order to understand where are shame comes from. Think about how the shame you feel may have originated. Do you remember a time when it felt like a new emotion? What was the context in which these feelings arose?

How do you continue the cycle of shame toward yourself or others?

Are you allowing another to shame you? What might happen if you drew a boundary against the shaming?

Develop compassion for yourself.

Develop compassion for yourself. Practice accepting that you are human, will make mistakes, and that you have limitations. When you notice yourself acting in ways that you don’t like, be open and curious about why your actions or feelings arose, rather than critical. Seek to get to know yourself better.

Forgive yourself for mistakes you made in your past and notice how you have grown as a result of making them or realizing you seek something different in the future. 

Challenge yourself and others when they are shaming.

Be intentional about treating yourself and others with respect. This helps us to love ourselves and engage in self-care, two much better things to perpetuate.



Two Step

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua.