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Dethroning the Voice of Shame

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By Deepak Santhiraj, Licensed Clinical Social Worker

feelings of shameWriting in his diary in 1892 at the height of the Russian Industrial Age, Leo Tolstoy observed, “Life cannot have any other purpose than joy and goodness. Only this purpose – joy- is ultimately worthy of life.” We can identify that goodness and beauty with unending joy can prevail in the face of monumental shame that releases a myriad of unsettling human emotions. Shame has a raw and overwhelming presence when known; yet, it can be problematic altogether when left undetected and will lead to our personal decline. Shame results in overt feelings of reactive anger in response to either experiencing fear or losing love and acceptance.

Threats to our emotional safety or well-being trigger the overt fear-based presentation of shame. Feelings of embarrassment or being ashamed arise from unrealistic views of ourselves and attack our self-acceptance, and this triangular response of anger, fear, and loss cycle within the circular patterns of shame’s grip within the human heart.

Popular media as well as a resurgence within the research community has brought shame into a place of prominence in the emotional terrain of families and marriages, war-torn bodies, international politics, and the intellectual arenas of college campuses. Shame is seen as impacting not only our thoughts but also the images, sensations, and feelings that are carried with the influence of shame upon our minds. Therefore, it becomes necessary to enter into the healing of shame required to navigate the storyline of our personal life narrative.  


Researcher and author Brené Brown states:

Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging. Shame derives its power from being unspeakable. That’s why it loves perfectionists – it’s so easy to keep us quiet. If we cultivate enough awareness about shame to name it and speak to it, we’ve basically cut it off at the knees. Shame hates having words wrapped around it. If we speak shame, it begins to wither. Just the way exposure to light was deadly for the gremlins, language and story bring light to shame and destroy it.

Social surveys and analytical blogs abound in a media-saturated forum within our digital age. Positive emotions that are linked to contrasting and opposing shame’s effects are now becoming a rarity. These positive emotions are being measured as within reach, can be bought and taught, or garnered for our comfort and overall life satisfaction as for our convenience; yet, few are able to combat shame with wisdom and find a general sense of well-being.

Shame, which leads to a myriad of problematic concerns for the human condition, keeps us informed with its statistical profile but fails to instruct us toward health and wholeness – a life worthwhile to be lived in fullness.

Shame causes us to hide behind the extroversion and introversion of our facades as work, status, education, and busyness to name just a few. Hiding behind bravado and timidity, humor and despair, conversation and lies – shame can demonstrate its face in a multitude of relational contexts. Pride within the heart promotes us to hide behind the veil of shame. Moving from one season of captivity into the next season of liberty requires us to possess wisdom with skillful instruction to dethrone shame’s voice, eradicate it from lingering, and identify how to obtain freedom and bring renewal to our authentic self.


From a neurobiological understanding and secure attachment viewpoint, basic shame is seen as an outflow from the first 9 months to two years of life’s critical development. These first few years of life are known to be tremendously important for self-esteem and the ability to feel empathy for others. Psychologists with a neurobiological lens unite in mutual consensus and agree that caretakers impact the neurological development of the child in the early years to either promote self-confidence and security in the world, or contrastingly create neurological damage by not being emotionally attuned to the child. Parents that foster a secure relational attachment with their child are able to properly attune to the child’s needs and encourage development in the external world.

When a household has these environmental variables that nurture an atmosphere of empathy, emotional responsiveness, mindfulness, and limit setting for behaviors – a secure relational attachment can fully develop. When the secure relational attachment is absent as a result, the child struggles with self-worth and the ability to empathize with others – being termed as basic shame. In this sense, shame has a universality and wide-ranging expression in the human race, and it is known as one of the more primitive emotions that has entered into our common encounters. Many are found fearful to discuss their experience of shame for fear of lacking in empathy and human connection. Within the recesses of the human soul lie the capacity for love, acceptance, belonging, and connection. Additionally, shame is the framework that cultivates a fear of disconnection. This fear arises from feelings of being unworthy to maintain connection with others because of failure, not living up to a standard, or an unmet and unfulfilled goal. As seen by popular media and current research, shame’s messages reflect the statements: I am unlovable. I do not belong. I am not worthy enough and do not measure up to connection, acceptance, belonging, and love. I am flawed and unworthy of anyone’s attention.


As we choose to deliberately understand human dynamics within the change process, we can gain insight into dismantling the operation of shame. Part of shame’s cyclical activity is when we become anxious about becoming vulnerable and pressing into relationships (i.e. when we feel humiliated, left out and alone, rejected, or maintain feelings of unworth and being unlovable), and then we avoid these interpersonal encounters in order to alleviate the anxiety that originally becomes aroused.

In essence, we steer away from pressing into relationships and contrastingly gravitate toward hiddenness, isolation, and disconnection – the very outcomes of shame’s cyclical activity. This cycle becomes repeated through negative reinforcement as anxiety is aroused with shame’s activity, avoidance and its various manifestations occur, and the pattern repeats and turns into an automatic response. As a result, developing the necessary skills to combat this cyclical activity of shame becomes neglected and fails to germinate over time. Avoidance of personal vulnerability becomes negatively reinforced through the failed attempt of reducing anxiety in response to shame’s thoughts and feelings. Avoidance, in direct contrast to personal vulnerability, within this cyclical pattern of shame’s activity can look like: raging and blaming, going numb, keeping quiet, giving up, insisting and pressuring, or remaining emotionally distant and uninvolved.


Part of dethroning the activity of shame within our lives looks like accessing the radiant joy that comes forth in living according to our authentic selves. Disempowering the voice of shame in its accusatory, belittling, and condemning voice over us necessitates that we access and walk in our authentic selves. Psychologists term the authentic self as the self-expression of our original thoughts, genuine emotions, and behavioral inclinations that are brought into a place of congruence within our daily lives.

Finding and living from the authentic self is the joyful liberty of dethroning the voice of shame. The human heart longs to access the inner resource that becomes provided through the activity and establishment of the self within, but shame seeks to inactivate courage and vulnerability and produce a sense of hiddenness. Hiddenness occurs when we withdraw from relationship. Misplaced shame occurs when we choose hiddenness and withdraw from vulnerable connection with others and fail to connect and express our authentic selves. We can gain this access and internal power to dethrone the voice of shame and its activity within our lives through yielding ourselves to the narrative process.


Recovering the personal life narrative and connecting with our authentic self produces confidence to nullify the effects of shame’s voice and dethrone its activity from within. Personal self-acceptance, connection, meaning, purpose, love, and self-compassion become radiant in our lives when shame loses its sway and diminishes in its activity over us. Shame can become dismantled and its power broken through conversation and relationship.


Author Curt Thompson writes,

“We are relational and therefore necessarily vulnerable beings, and the healing of shame begins and ends in the experience of being known.”


We experience shame relationally, but we can also pursue healing from its power through relationships that will lead to renewed inner vitality. Relationships that cultivate mindful, intentional, and other-centered connection will conclude in joy, and this ultimately moves the soul filled with shame toward healing and restoration.


Neuropsychologist Allan Schore describes shame in terms of a car. Imagine an automobile with a standard transmission. We have an accelerator, a brake, and the clutch. Any time we move forward in life, our parasympathetic drive—our relaxed state—is literally in sympathy with us, acting like the accelerator as we learn and engage in the world, whether we are two-year-olds looking at begonias or professionals in the marketplace. Shame can be experienced as quiet and subtle but also overwhelming and incessant in its persistent rumination that cultivates a personal history of agreement with self-condemnation. Men and women alike can re-write their personal narratives and move toward joyful relational attachment, creativity, and optimal life flow. Part of establishing a shame resilience and walking in personal freedom involve: moving toward exposing shame and bringing it into the light, reaching outwardly toward family and friends to create meaning and connection, and knowing our shame-based triggers that inundate us with negative messages and promote disconnection.

With self-compassion, wisdom and insight, and the appropriate treatment, shame’s voice can become dethroned. When we choose to vulnerably connect with others and tap into the proper relational nutrients that expose shame’s activity, we will move toward dethroning the voice of shame.

Additional Articles by Deepak Santhiraj:


Recommended Resources:

  • Dancing with Fire: A Mindful Way to Loving Relationships by John Amodeo
  • Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brené Brown
  • Shame: Free Yourself, Find Joy, and Build True Self-Esteem by Joseph Burgo
  • The Developing Mind by Daniel Siegel
  • The Soul of Shame: Retelling the Stories That We Believe About Ourselves by Curt Thompson


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