The painful feelings arising from the consciousness of something dishonorable, improper, ridiculous etc done by oneself or another is called shame. Shame is avoided in the “real” world as well. In fact, most of us feel shame about feeling shame. As a result shame is rarely acknowledged to others, or even to oneself. As with any feeling, when shame is denied it will only resurface to create even more pain and destruction.

Unfortunately, shame is often unbearable. For example humiliation and indignity, which are part of the “shame family of feelings”, may be so painful they may lead to violence or suicide. We may associate shame with being worthless, unlovable, unredeemable, or cut-off from humanity. It may evoke other painful feelings, rage at the one we feel shamed by, or terror that we will be abandoned, fragmented and/or overwhelmed with despair.

Silvan Tomkins said:

If distress is the affect of suffering, shame is the affect of indignity, transgression and of alienation. Though terror speaks to life and death and distress makes of the world a vale of tears, yet shame strikes deepest into the heart of man…. shame is felt as inner distress, a sickness of the soul….the humiliated one feels himself naked, defeated, alienated, lacking in dignity and worth.

Shame manifests itself physically in a wide variety of forms. The person may hide their eyes; lower their gaze; blush; bite their lips or tongue; present a forced smile; or fidget. Other responses may include annoyance, defensiveness, exaggeration or denial. Because the affect of shame often interferes with our ability to think, the individual may experience confusion, being at a loss for words, or a completely blank mind.

Shame is often experienced as the inner, critical voice that judges whatever we do as wrong, inferior, or worthless. Often this inner critical voice is repeating what was said to us by our parents, relatives, teachers and peers. We may have been told that we were naughty, selfish, ugly, stupid, etc. We may have been not accepted by peers at school, humiliated by teachers, treated with contempt by our parents. Paradoxically, shame may be caused by others expecting too much of us, evoking criticism when our performance is less than perfect. Some authority figures are never satisfied with one’s efforts or performance, they are critical no matter what. Unfortunately, these criticisms become internalized, so that it is our own inner critical voice that is meting out the shaming messages.