Seeking Your Shadow: Stalking Shame
Shame by its very nature tends to lurk in the shadows of our mind. The great psychoanalyst Carl Jung described the “shadow self” as the aspects of human experience that are held below the level of conscious attention, but that nonetheless greatly impacts human experience and behavior. I believe that for many, shame represents a large proportion of this shadow-self due to its aversive qualities and its capacity to evade detection. I have previously likened it to a ninja or vampire, avoiding the light of conscious attention and “shape shifting” into clever disguises such as anxiety, social avoidance, drug seeking, overeating and so on. The first and perhaps most critical step in working with shame is to learn how to seek and find your shadow by stalking shame so that one can train conscious attention into the experience of shame. If we can bear witness to shame it loses its ability to be reactively acted in or acted out. We can watch the experience and let it move on like clouds in the sky. By hiding from it, we feed the beast. Shame unattended is shame manifested.
But shame is slippery and requires practice to detect. It is very unlike other emotions such as fear or anger that has a distinct and noticeable physiological impact. Shame is much more amorphous and indistinct. Shame is a parasympathetic nervous system response associated with the “freeze response” (as opposed to the sympathetic nervous system-mediated “flight or fight response). However, we can learn to identify its tell-tale signs. Shame impacts our behavior/actions, our thoughts/speech, and our bodily sensations. By learning to recognize these three realms of impact, we can become better able to detect the presence of shame. And by so doing, we can learn to hold the light of attention into the experience and thus dispell the shadows. At first, shame will most likely be detected after the fact. It is like learning how to stalk prey by identifying the telltale signs left by the critter we are pursuing. With time, practice, fortitude, and perseverance, we can come to recognize it in real time and awaken to its presence. In fact, this endeavor enables one to wake up to life in general and become a more genuine representation of our true nature.
The next three posts will be devoted to learning how to recognize the footprints of shame in the three aforementioned dimensions; behavior, thought and sensation.
All are invited to post reactions, personal experiences or any thoughts related to this or other posts!