The Anatomy of Shame

Emotion Series #8

July 22, 2022
Joe and Brett examine shame as the conditioned outline of our identity, sharing tools to deconstruct and melt it on an intellectual, emotional, and somatic level. "All we're doing here is freeing the blocking of emotions by feeling into our body and creating love where there was abandonment."

Episode intro: All we are doing here is we are actually freeing the blocking of emotions by feeling our body and creating love where there was abandonment.

Welcome to the Art of Accomplishment where we explore how deepening connection with ourselves and others leads to creating the life we want with enjoyment and ease. I am Brett Kistler, here today with my co-host Joe Hudson.

Brett: Oh boy, what a week! I don’t even want to get into it. I am just going to say what a week.

Joe: It has been strange. When people are listening, it might not be this way but most of the people I talk to it feels like there is a certain amount of overwhelm. I don’t know if it is because we are all getting fully back into life after COVID or what it is, but there seems to be a lot of people in overwhelm right now.

Brett: Definitely lots of things changing after COVID. Also, sometimes there is just stuff in the air, whatever it is. Things happen, and you find yourself in these little pressure cookers the universe creates for us to learn from, which is great because today we are talking about shame, which is one of the things we find ourselves in the midst of when we find ourselves in a pressure cooker situation in life. Last time we talked about shameless apologies, and I think it would be really good to get into really what exactly the shame part of that is. What actually is shame? How does it show up? How is it that it seeps its way into so many parts of our lives, including the ways we make apologies but many other things as well?

Joe: I think there are so many ways of looking at shame. The way I like to look at it is that it is nature’s way of training us to be good citizens. It is not a perfect methodology or good tribe members or good family members or something like that. The way it works, for the most part, is that when you are ostracized from the group, you feel shame. An example of this would be you are sitting with your aunts, and you are flatulent. You fart. All of the aunts laugh. There is not going to be any shame. You are a little kid. You are five years old. But if you are five years old and you fart and all of your aunties have that you shouldn’t have done that attitude, then you are going to have shame.

Shame is this mechanism that we have that teaches us on an emotional level how we should and shouldn’t be. I haven’t seen any research on this, but my experience is that there is actually natural shame as well. I think that all human beings are equipped with a certain way of acting and their system is going to feel shame if they don’t act in that way, generally. It seems like that’s a natural thing that happens for folks that can be overridden or destroyed in somebody, but it seems to be there.

I remember when I was five years old. I had this experience at this school fair. There was a raffle. I was at the raffle table, and my parents were doing something else. There was this GI Joe figure, and he had an amphibious unit. I really wanted to play with it, so I took it off the table and started playing. This guy got really angry at me. Where’s your mother? My mom came over, and my mom said he is five. He is just playing with whatever he wants to play with. I didn’t get in trouble. This guy was yelling at me, but I remember when my mom said that, I got this kick in my stomach of shame. It was this kick. Even though she wasn’t upset at me and he was upset at me, the shame didn’t come when he was upset at me. The shame came at that moment when I knew I shouldn’t have taken the thing off the table, and my mom was defending me. I remember that feeling. I remember for a year after that every time I would think of that feeling, I would get that kick in the stomach again.

I have this very specific memory of it and not wanting to feel that. Looking back at it now, I realize that was the second thing I was doing, which shame just seems to stop all of the emotions and stagnates emotion. You don’t get emotional fluidity. That’s the other interesting thing that shame does is it just kind of stagnates the emotion, which means shame is often something that people get in for years, years, years, and years because it is a slowing effect or a stopping effect of the emotional fluidity.

Brett: You have mentioned before that you once wrote a list of all of the things that hadn’t changed in your life over 10 years, and every single one of them had shame around it. Last night as I was preparing for this episode, I wrote a list of all of the different kinds of shame I felt over the past year, shame that I avoided and I didn’t take any action based on. I looked at all of the things that would have occurred in my life if I had actually just taken the actions I had the shame around. Some examples were shame of missed opportunity, shame of feeling transactional, shame of being salesy, shame of not being able to care of people, shame of drawing a messy boundary, and all these different things that it was just a little bit easier not to do that. I looked back on it and thought I would have had a really different year. It is really exciting to think about what might have happened if I had done all those things I was ashamed of, and also, from where I am sitting right now, it doesn’t feel like there was actually any real danger in that shame other than just stepping out of my comfort zone.

Joe: That’s the interesting thing. Let’s say the shame of being salesy or transactional or something like that, that’s something a lot of people have learned. I work with some people in business, and they say of course, I am looking out for my interests. I respect other people who are doing that. Of course, that person is selling because that’s their job. They have a business. Of course they should be selling. I would like them to see me as human and not be too forceful about it, but that’s their job. Then I have other people who as soon as they think about marketing or sales, they think ooh, gross, I don’t want to do that. There is shame around it.

A lot of that is just what you’ve been taught by your specific society, your specific tribe, and that’s the amazing thing about it. All of these people in today’s society, it is not like we all grow up in the same tribe generally with the norms of that microcivilization. Your neighbor could have a completely different set of shame than you have, which is just fascinating. The opportunity is you get to really say what the social norms are that I want to live by and that I want the people around me to live by. You get to think about that as you are addressing your own shame, which is cool.

Brett: I feel like a good metaphor for this is an electric dog fence. You have a road that has cars on it, and dogs get hit by cars. That’s not good. You put a fence around it. You want your dog to feel relatively free and you want to build a physical fence around your yard. You put an electric fence in. You train the dog by having it approach the fence, and it gets the shock collar. Every time it gets the shock collar, it is unexpected and it recognizes that something is wrong. It goes into this nervous system shutdown. It just doesn’t do that thing anymore.

Then after it has been trained, you can actually turn the fence off. It is just not going to go where that fence had been. Maybe it is not feeling shame about going there but it is the same kind of nervous system response where we develop these habits of I am not going to go there, I am not going to do that. That’s going to get me rejected. Then we often don’t question it, and we live in that electric fence that we built for ourselves or our society or our parents trained us on. It is interesting that everybody has a different electric fence, and we have all of these microsocieties interacting. There is so much tension around why people have so much shame or you should feel shame. Then we have this thing where people use shame as a tool for social justice or to try to change behavior in society, which doesn’t work.

Joe: No, it makes people rebel against it, especially if they don’t agree. The other thing that’s really cool about your metaphor is I don’t know if you know this, but there are dogs that learn that if they just go through that fence really quickly, it is worth it. They just run really quickly, and it shocks them but it only shocks them for a little bit of time because they are out of the zone. It only shocks you within the zone. That happens with people, too, as far as shame.

Let’s say you have a natural habit, like sex, meaning it is in your nature to have sex. It is more than in your nature. You can almost say your nature is to have sex. If we didn’t have sex, we wouldn’t be here.

Brett: As much as it is to eat.

Joe: As much as it is to eat. If you throw shame onto that urge, which most of society has done.

Brett: Or onto eating for that matter.

Joe: Or onto eating for that matter. Then you start associating shame. Things that wire together fire together. Every time sex happens, shame happens. There is actually something that happens where people get addicted to shame, I would say. The shame is the addiction. Sex isn’t as thrilling unless there is a little bit of shame with it, or shopping isn’t as thrilling if there isn’t a little bit of shame with it. There is actually this weird thing that happens, which is a lot like the dog running through the fence. I want that thing. I want to be roaming, and I will take that shock. It will just add to the thrill of getting through and making it happen, which is totally fascinating to me.

I think that’s the other thing that happens as far as keeping bad habits in place. There is this great quote that says, “Shame is the locks that hold the chains of bad habits in place.” I think this is one of the big mechanisms for it. It is because we actually become addicted to the shame because we want the stuff that comes with it, like sex or food or things or a bunch of stuff in our nature.

Brett: We just keep going back to that shame place, but then not actually getting the thing that we want because we are locked up in shame and it blocks our emotions. Emotions are a part of our experiencing the actual thing. If we are not feeling the emotions, then we are not actually…

Joe: It is an empty ghost syndrome. I got the thing that I wanted, but I didn’t get to enjoy it completely because there is shame. It doesn’t actually fully fulfill me, so I need to do it again, again, again, and again.

Brett: This seems like it would be a maladaptive evolutionary thing, to go into something where we feel shame and then all of our processing shuts down. That doesn’t seem optimal. What’s going on with this?

Joe: It keeps us inside the fence. That’s the thing. It keeps us inside of that line, which is what we need evolutionarily to exist as a tribe, as a small group, as a village, as a nation to some degree. We need to stay within that fence, or we are just not going to work out as well. It is not perfectly adapted, but it had a reason. The reason to some degree is useful. People without shame are psychopaths. That’s the name for them is psychopath, people without shame. They will hurt people and then society will completely fall apart. If we had a society of psychopaths, I don’t think the society would operate very well.

Brett: It sounds like one of the variables here is that society is now changing so much more rapidly than it used to. With everything that relates to our nervous system, everything is changing faster than it ever used to change. Every part of our nervous system needs to be able to update faster in order to maintain contact with what reality is now and not what it was 100,000 years ago.

Joe: It is possible as well that some of the ways it is adapting aren’t good for the long run either. I have no idea what’s going to happen societally speaking, but what I can say is that what’s happening with the shame in people that I work with is that when they feel shame around something, they usually are stuck in that habit. They are usually stuck in that mode for an extended period of time. To be able to address and lift the shame is fantastic.

The crazy thing about addressing and lifting that shame is there is an intellectual basis to it, and there is also an emotional basis to it. You don’t really get the lift without the emotional basis, meaning a lot of people realize that the church told them sex was bad and their grandmother told them sex was bad, but they know sex isn’t bad, yet they still feel shame wanting sex. They still recreate sex in a way that they get to feel shame instead of having sex in a way that would make them no feel shame. They continually choose to have sex in a way that gives them shame. That whole thing that happens has to be addressed with the emotions behind it. You can’t just address it intellectually. It doesn’t change anything for people.

Brett: In fact, that can just increase the level of tension you feel internally. If you intellectually know that you shouldn’t feel this shame and your body does feel the shame, and you don’t know what to do about it, then you can actually just stress yourself out even more and just vibrate in place with this. I’ve found myself in that a lot.

Joe: I can describe everything that’s wrong with me, but nothing has changed. That’s a little slice of pain and discomfort. Exactly.

Brett: One thing I’ve noticed is when we are talking about being the dog that runs through the electric fence, I am going to get my freedom. Sometimes it will run straight through the electric fence and get hit by a car. Is that the one of the things you just have to accept? If I am going to move through the thing my entire system thinks is going to hurt me or get me ostracized, to find out if that is true, sometimes I am going to get ostracized and find out it is true. Sometimes maybe I won’t.

Joe: I don’t think it is necessary. I think running through the fence just starts wiring stuff together. I don’t think it is necessary. I just think it is far better to turn off the fence so to speak, meaning really address the shame underneath it and really investigate both emotionally and intellectually and watch it fall apart. Then you can take your action.

One of the ways to do that is to really feel the want in the shame itself, meaning really feel the desire. What is the sexual experience you do want? What is the eating experience you do want? Usually the one that’s wired with shame is not the one you actually want. It is also to really intellectually take apart the thing that people think they should be ashamed of so that it can exist.

Brett: I think this can lead to another interesting place, especially in self development or self-exploration where it is easy for us to identify the shame that we are ready to let go of and not identify the ones that are deeper. We might go on a mission where I think I have a lot of shame about sex, so what I am going to do is deconstruct all of my sex shame and go have all the sex that I want.

You might not notice there is actually shame in there you are also recreating, shame of abandonment or shame of recklessness, all kinds of different things you are still recreating in the way you are going about exploring your newfound freedom in the one shame area you are exploring. That might take a couple of years of a process before you realize you actually were using this exploration of shame to run further from other shame you weren’t looking at.

Joe: If you have a group of people around you, the best way to address the shame is to see that you are loved within the action. You can’t do this by yourself, but it is a cool thing to do. If you are having shame around the way you eat, for instance, how do you create a situation where you are loved for the way you eat? How do you create a situation where you can be appreciated, where there is nothing that you have to hide? You aren’t sneaking into the corner and hiding.

When we do a lot of our courses, one of the things we do is create that container of love because a lot of what people are ashamed of nobody else has a problem with. It is amazing. You will hear somebody in one of our workshops, and they will say they want to feel pleasure. They won’t even say what kind of pleasure that is, and they will say they feel ashamed to even want. They feel selfish. They feel ashamed for even wanting to feel pleasure. I will ask if anybody there has a problem with them feeling pleasure. Who here wants this person to have a life that’s full of pleasure? It is like that perpetually. If I asked a room full of people if they had a problem with Brett wanting to make his business really successful and going out there and really selling his business so it can be successful, as long as it is in alignment with who he is, nobody would say they were opposed to that. To really see and feel that love is an amazing thing.

That changes shame because shame is often put in place because of a society telling us that we were bad or wrong or being ostracized.

Brett: One of the things you said is maybe it is not about running straight through the electric fence and finding out what happens because that might be more likely to recreate it. It is more about inspecting it. You can create a group for yourself of people where you can test it out. There is that saying that we are traumatized in relationship and we are healed in relationship, especially for something like shame, which is a social type of programming. Not just for our intellect but for our whole body, our whole nervous system to experience the unexpected, which is to be loved for the thing we are ashamed of, is really what is required to get down to that.

Joe: If you are doing it with other people, that is the quickest way, but there are lots of ways to address it within yourself. You mentioned this a while ago. One of the ways to address it in yourself is to not recreate the behaviors. One of the things we go through in some of the courses is people getting in touch with their anger and being able to move their anger, but not at anybody, not in a way that hurts anybody, but just let that energy move and to learn how to love it. In that process, they might get angry at somebody or they might break something. Then they can go see anger isn’t safe. They create the shame to reinforce the worldview or the identity. That’s one of the coolest things about shame is that it is the outline of our identity often or part of the outline of our identity, the things that we are ashamed of.

Brett: It can be subtle. When you have a couple of layers of shame over a possible action you might take, it doesn’t occur to you that that action is even possible or that this version of you might even exist. I’m just not that way. I’ve always been this way and not that way. I’m not a salesy kind of person, somebody might say. I’m just not into sex.

Joe: Exactly. What I notice is that we have this natural desire to unfold, to flourish, to become more and more free. As one part unfolds, we will start running up against those things we can’t see. We start running up against the shame that is so deep in us that we are not aware of today.

Brett: Let’s say somebody doesn’t have a group around them. They want to do some personal self-exploration on shame. I just described what I did yesterday and that was really helpful, which was writing down as many subtle types of shame that I found just were something I didn’t want to feel so I didn’t take an action that would have led me in that direction. I went in some other direction. I find myself deeper, deeper into my comfort zone. Then, some form of stagnation occurs.

I am curious what some practices are that somebody could take individually to explore their shame and use some of the tools we have talked about on this podcast to explore it.

Joe: The best way is the body. The body tells you when you are ashamed quicker than the mind ever will. There is a certain feeling you get when you are ashamed in your body, and to be able to be aware of that and see that happening is great. Your mind will often spin in shame. If you notice your mind is spinning, going over the same story over, over and over again, then you can see there is shame in that. You can start finding the beliefs in that as well. That’s another to do it, using your intellect to find it.

The other way to deal with it is just start dealing with the shame you can see, and then the other shame will present itself. You solve one, and then the next one comes. What you will start noticing is a lot of the shame contradicts itself. If you say to somebody that you don’t want to always be talking, cool, so the question is: Are you good with always being quiet? No. What’s going on there? What is it that you actually want? What you will notice is that want isn’t solidified in their system. They are very clear on all of the things they are not allowed to want. They are very clear on all of the things they can’t do, but they haven’t actually found the solution to say I can do this.

Let’s say smoking. Do you want to smoke? No. Are you ashamed of smoking? Yes. Do you want to never have a cigarette again in your whole life? They say no. What’s going on there? Really being able to feel through your wants is another great thing. To intellectually see how many double binds you are in with your own shame, where you are in no win situations where there is no way you have an out, and then to find your wants so that you can see what the right out is, those are really good, useful things.

The other thing is to feel the shame all the way through. Shame has a stagnation, and the stagnation occurs because you don’t want to feel it. You don’t want to think about it. You push it aside, and if you stop pushing it aside and you ask what is that thing and how I can love it because the shame, in a weird way, is the absence of love. If you can love that thing you are ashamed of, then you can move through it.

Brett: It is almost an absence of awareness. Awareness tends to naturally draw itself away from where there is shame, and it becomes this barren wasteland in the body. If you bring awareness back to it, it is as though shame is an emotion that blocks other emotions. It is an emotional nemesis.

Joe: Yeah, it does. It stops that fluidity from happening. It feels so uncomfortable to us that we just push it and anything that comes with it aside. People who are ashamed of their sexuality can’t feel that full desire. They can’t feel that full wanting. When they are having sex, they are not like fully deeply into the pleasure. The sex is going to be much quicker and harder. They can’t actually fully allow all of the pleasure of that sexual experience into their system. It is the same thing with somebody eating. If they have a lot of shame around their food, they are not able to really taste it and savor it. That’s not to say that people who don’t taste all have shame around their food. That’s not what I am saying, or that you can’t have all sorts of sex and enjoy it. I am just saying the capacity to enjoy it goes away if you have shame.

Brett: It sounds like there is a lot of subtlety here as there is with any emotion. If you look at an emotion, for example, you feel sadness, there can be more and more subtle levels of sadness or different subtle kinds of emotion that are something next to sadness, melancholy, nostalgia, and the like. The same can be true for shame.

I notice there is a progression that happens when we start to do more emotional exploration. We start by not being aware of the emotion or we report it as we feel good or we feel bad. Then we start to recognize the emotion. I feel shame. Getting deeper, it might be I feel specifically the shame around money, but sometimes I don’t feel ashamed about making money. Maybe I feel ashamed about making money if I don’t feel like I am really creating value or that it came from some work ethic that was trained up in me. If I make the money but I don’t feel like I deserve it or all these different subtleties.

But then also each of the subtleties, you can get lost in. I have this particular, subtle form of shame. Then creating that label that shame is still an intellectual barrier to actually experiencing and feeling it in the body.

Joe: If you can feel and experience it in the body, you don’t have to name it. You don’t have to understand very much of it. If somebody asked what the quickest way was to get through shame, I would say every time you feel it, stop, invite it, love it, welcome it back anytime it wants to come, and when it is ready, then you move. Then you keep moving until the next time you feel it. If you just did that, you wouldn’t have to understand anything. You would just more and more be in love with your life and each other.

There is this fear. People think if I do that, then I will be a psychopath and I will start hurting people. I will only be self-interested. That’s the belief system, but what actually happens is you become more and more in love with yourself and everybody else if you really feel the love for all of the things you are ashamed of. That love has a very strong moral compass. The more that you are in love with people, the more painful it is to do anything that would be knowingly hurting them in the long run. You might be happy to hurt them in the short run if it is for their greater good.

Brett: The very fact that you are even asking this of yourself, what if I become a psychopath? I don’t know of any psychopaths who ask themselves what if I became a psychopath and didn’t care about people’s feelings or how I am hurting people. That’s just not how a psychopath operates. This moral compass is even there in the belief system that would hold you back from feeling your shame.

Joe: That’s beautiful. I hadn’t thought about it that way. That’s beautiful. If you find yourself wanting something and you are ashamed of that thing you want, you can just ask yourself this really cool and very simple question, which is if I thought I was inherently good, how would I interpret that want? How would I see that want? I want a billion dollars. That’s selfish. That’s greedy. I should be ashamed of that. If you saw yourself as inherently good, what would you make of that want? I see that I want security. I see that I want to feel safe. I see that I want to be seen as important. I see that I want to help people. I see that I want autonomy. You could see what was behind the want.

What happens in shame is that there has to be a belief system that you are not inherently good, and if you can get in touch with your inherent goodness. What’s interesting is the idea that if I let go of my shame, I will be bad, but what’s actually happening is when you let go of your shame, you get in touch with your inherent goodness.

Brett: I can also see what our notions of inherently good mean might also color this as well. I just want to become the leader of the free world so that I can finally implement the surveillance and police state that will finally make everybody safe. That’s just my inherent goodness coming out.

Joe: What I am suggesting is more of when you feel the shame, interpret it through the lens of you are inherently good, not using I am inherently good to run your shame down and push it down and justify your behavior that feels like shit inside of your system.

Brett: How do you notice the difference between what you are doing there if that’s the case?

Joe: Your body doesn’t like it. There is no way that the person who is like I want to control everything so that I feel safe feels good in their body. I’ve seen those people. They are incredibly rigid. They are held all the time. Their shoulders are rocks. Those people are not not in conflict in their body. They have cut themselves off from their body because if they felt their body, they would be screaming in pain.

Brett: Part of the practice is becoming more aware of the subtle, unconscious tensions in our body and the conflict in our emotions. That’s just part of this entire journey. Shame is one dimension on which to make that exploration.

Joe: If you go back to our original definition of shame, it is what society does to tell you that you are not behaving properly. It controls. It is that mechanism, but it is also the blocking of emotions. All we are doing is we are actually freeing the blocking of emotions by feeling our body and creating love where there was abandonment. It is as simple as that. It is just counteracting it.

Brett: From that perspective, there is a way you could see shame as a way that we abandon ourselves. There is some part of us, some natural instinct, some natural impulse to be fully who we are and we abandon that part by withdrawing from it in shame.

Joe: Unless there is the natural shame, like I said. I think there is a natural shame. There are certain behaviors that as humans, if we do it, we are going to feel that shame probably with or without a society. Hurting people we love on purpose for our own good, for our own short term good, is going to feel crappy in people’s bodies probably no matter whose body it is unless they are neurologically atypical.

Brett: I think part of what we have been talking about with exploring the shame and bringing attention and love to it is that it will distill into its more natural form. It won’t entirely go away. By doing self-exploration in any emotion, you are not going to be able to remove the experience of emotion just because you are working to deconstruct if it is really meant to be there. If there is really something in you that’s bringing up anger, you could suppress the anger, but you are not going to convince your system to just fully release the sense of something being violated unless there is just a story to be seen through and that story was just vapor along.

Joe: I would say that with all of the emotions, including shame, if you are trying to get rid of it, then you are not welcoming it. Then you are not actually loving it. It is like welcoming kids into the house just so you can get the fuck rid of them. They don’t feel loved. The idea is you are actually welcoming shame, and you look forward to feeling it. You invite it. It is not in any way to get rid of it. As that happens, it becomes more of its natural expression rather than the expression that people use to control you when you were a kid or to control you in society. Not to say that they were trying to control you because they were bad, they were just passing on what they had learned.

Brett: This brings me to another question, which is how we relate to others when others are feeling shamed. When somebody comes up and they give us an apology with a bunch of shame, and we talked about in the last episode how that feels to receive. Let’s say somebody in our lives is repeating a shame loop, and maybe the actions they are taking in that shame loop are hurting us. Maybe it is an employee who is not delivering or not being honest or maybe it is a partner or a brother who is addicted to some drug, and there is this shame loop. You see somebody in it. What’s a way to be with them in that shame?

Joe: There are kind of two things there. The first one is if I see somebody in shame. The way Tara and I have decided to raise our kids is that we don’t shame them. We don’t punish them and we don’t shame them. What I’ve noticed in them is they will shame themselves. We don’t have to do anything. When they do something that is not in alignment with their moral compass, they will shame themselves. Sometimes they will even shame themselves when I think that’s ridiculous. Please don’t. I will literally say that to them. I will say I see you are ashamed, and I want you to know there is nothing in me that wants you to be ashamed. You are welcome to be ashamed, and I can be with you while you are ashamed, but I just want you to know there is nothing in me that wants you to be ashamed. Imagine hearing that from your parent in a moment of shame. It makes me misty inside just thinking I am able to give that gift to my girls. There is that.

I think if you see somebody in shame, to be able to stand in love and say there is nothing to be ashamed of is great. With that said and even when people have done some pretty bad things to me out of their own neurosis, and you get a lot of that as a coach, I will say to them I want you to do that again. I might even stop our relationship, and I don’t want you to feel ashamed. The reason I don't want them to feel ashamed is because that’s just going to recreate the behavior. If they can steal my love, then hopefully that behavior becomes less prevalent in their life.

If somebody is in a shame loop and they are doing something over and over again, and it is creating that bad habit or it is locking that bad habit in place, then I think it is usually best to just draw boundaries. It is not to try to save them from it. It is to be clear and honest with them and to say I don’t want you to be ashamed. I don’t want this kind of behavior in my life, so when you are ready to not have this kind of behavior, you are always welcome here. If somebody is in a loop, that can be really devastating for your life and theirs. I mean that is drug addiction. That is constantly stealing from somebody, and it is that kind of behavior. For me, I just draw boundaries around it. It doesn’t help them for me to be codependent with them.

Brett: One thing you mentioned in the way you relate to your daughters is you said you don’t want them to feel shame, but you are also welcome to feel the shame if you want to. I think that’s an important component here because, coming from a place of trigger and frustration with somebody who is in a shame cycle around them, somebody could tell them to stop feeling shame. Then that would just create a whole new shame pattern around the shame.

Joe: Yeah, I did that once or twice. Their shame was so uncomfortable for me that I wanted them to stop it.

Brett: Which brings us back to apologies. I am sorry that I have feelings around your shame and I am trying to control you. I have shame.

Joe: Exactly. I think the thing about shame is it is a bit of a paper dragon in the fact that, or paper tiger, it melts with love. In a weird way, I would even say that shame is a version of love in the fact that it is care. It is weird. We feel shame, and we interpret that as there is something wrong with us. There is something bad. There is something that’s unacceptable in us. The only reason that we would think that is because we care to be good. We care for other people. It is the thing that shows us that we love. It is an action of love. It is a sign of our inherent goodness that we feel it.

When you see it that way, instead of as this horrific thing you want to get rid of, it really can transform. The way it looks when it transforms, it just becomes natural guiderails about how you want to live your life. You know if you do that, it is going to feel crappy, so you don’t want to do that. It is just like that. But it is not based on what other people said. It is based on your love and how you want to be in the world, not based on some weird authority figure who needed to have people act a certain way so they could feel safe.

Brett: In that sense, it feels like there is a natural progression of things. When you are a child, it makes sense for your parents, your family or tribe to instill in you the understanding of what is or isn’t accepted or what will or will not get you ousted, and then as you develop and mature as an adult, you get to develop your own inner compass and connect more and more to that compass yourself and inspect that shame, test it out and see what really actually feels good. Now that you understand the world a little bit more and you have lived in it some time, and then that locus of that internal compass becomes yours and not something that you have just adopted from the outside.

Joe: The only thing I would change about that is that my experience with my daughters is that the moral compass is in them I wouldn’t say right from the start, but it starts developing around five or six years old. There is this natural desire to be good if they haven’t been traumatized, if they haven’t been shamed. If you just allow them to figure out and listen to themselves, they learn this thing very naturally. They want to love and be loved. Humans want to love and be loved. You traumatize them. You beat them up. You tell them they are bad, and they will believe it and they will not be in touch with that desire to love and be loved. They will start trying to make up with it for control, dominance or violence.

Brett: All of those things just delay the onset or perpetually perhaps forever delay the onset or stunt the onset of that internal compass. It is natural for it to arise much earlier than we might expect if we buy into the belief system that shame is a tool for social justice or shame is the way we teach people to operate in society.

One thing I’ve noticed also and something we have talked about before is one way to relieve some shame in our system is to share it. If we have been in a co-dependent pattern with somebody, we need to say I know I have been trying to control you, and I realize I have actually been avoiding my own shame. Just noting it and saying that, that can be a way for the whole thing to just start dissolving in us.

Joe: Absolutely. AA is built on that. Twelve step programs are built on that premise. A lot of group work is built on the premise of if I bring my shame out into the light and let people see it, especially if those people still love me and can still accept me, then the shame can vanish.

Brett: As we close this episode, my invitation here is that I am going to add all of the things that I wrote in my notebook last night into our show notes. I also invite anybody else to go to our website,, and there is a feedback form there. You can just say here is some shame. Use a fictitious name if you want or no name. We are going to use names in the show notes. As they come in, I will just add them to the list. You can check out all of the different kinds of shame people have had that they have sent in and see where some of them might show up in you. You might think that you hadn’t even thought of one, but that one is real for me.

Joe: That’s cool. Also, when you are going through them and you think that’s ridiculous that anybody would be ashamed of that, know that there is somebody out there looking at your shame list thinking the same thing. They shouldn’t be ashamed of that. That’s just human. That’s just natural. What a pleasure. What a good idea. Thanks for coming up with that one.

Brett: Thank you, Joe. Thanks everybody for listening.

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