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A startling fact about why your shame is a good thing


Last night, as I walked to my car, I witnessed a mother berating her 7 year old daughter for skipping – carefree along the pavement. She really was having a go at her, telling her she was doing a dumb thing on a busy street.  Eventually the girl slowed and walked, at a distance, with her head bowed.  The connection with her mother and the opportunity for self-regulation was broken.  The mother, having used shame as a method of education about the dangers of the road.

Usually, shame is defined as:

a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behaviour.(1)

Re-look at the definition and you will see it does not specify whose behaviour is wrong.

What if shame is a defensive emotion we use to warn us?

Think of it as an internal alarm that is there to ensure that we don’t damage our connections with people.

As Prof. Steven Porges recounts, ‘it is vital to have good eye contact and to have the ability to read people’s faces, in order to be able to co-regulate your stress response’. (2).  You can tell instantly, by looking at the face of another, whether there is danger.  Breaking that contact breaks our ability to self-regulate and makes repair more difficult.

So is it when your internal “shame alarm” goes off, and by convention, you automatically bow your head “in shame”, that the break in contact with the other is made?

Are you unable to suss out what is wrong?

Is this the root of what is sometimes long-lasting feelings of shame?

In 2016 research concluded that ‘The function of shame is to prevent us from damaging our social relationships, or to motivate us to repair them…

…because shame (like pain) causes personal suffering and sometimes leads to hostile behavior, this emotion has been called “maladaptive” and “ugly”. However, an evolutionary–psychological analysis of the existing evidence suggests a different view: this ugly emotion may be the expression of a system that is elegantly designed to deter injurious choices and to make the best of a bad situation.‘(3)


Is there the potential for you to see your shame as an elegantly designed system that deters from injurious choices and makes the best of a bad situation.

The problem isn’t one of the you feeling shame, being shamed, rather that the perpetrator does not have access to this warning system. They are unable to determine that their actions are wrong, they cannot switch on the alarm that deters injurious choices.  As Rothschild says, they are shame-less

Completely unaware that their actions have caused a break in the social relationship. 

Completely unaware that a repair is required, in order for you to feel safe, to feel yourself again, to feel no shame.

What do you need to do to feel safe again?

You should take comfort that your body correctly identifies that there was “wrong or foolish behaviour” and yes, that felt humiliating and painful. However, I hope that you are able to truly know, that that was not your wrong behaviour, but that of the shameless perpetrator and that now that episode has passed, that event has ended, there is no need for your alarm system to still be turned on.

Know that your shame alarm works just fine and trust it will alert you to future “wrong” situations, but also know that is doesn’t need to be permanently turned on.

If you’d like to learn more about how I help you to feel more at home with yourself, whilst living in a foreign environment, by balancing your nervous system using craniosacral therapy, then I am happy to arrange a free phone or video call with you.


(1) https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/shame
(2) (stevenporges.com)
(3) http://www.pnas.org/content/113/10/2625