Shame Thoughts: The Inner Critic
We have been discussing how to stalk core shame identity….very elusive prey indeed. Like any tracker, prey is identified through the residual traces it leaves. In the previous post on this subject, I presented tracking shame behavior. Core shame is also identified by the cognitions (thoughts) that arise out of the identification with the feeling that we are less than Ok and personally flawed and wanting at some core level. These shame thoughts are often referred to as The Inner Critic. Shame is not caused by these thoughts. Of course, a more cognitively oriented psychologist would probably disagree with this statement. The conditioning that gives rise to shame lies deep within sub cortical brain structures (our mammalian flight, fright and freeze centers). However, this conditioning influences patterns of thought, beliefs, expectations, and assumptions that are held in higher brain structures. These patterns of thought co-arise as the experience of shame is triggered by a variety of environmental and other stimuli. However, regardless of one’s theoretical orientation, recognizing these arising thoughts is critical to help to stay present with the experience of shame.
Self-condemning thoughts are the most obvious manifestation of shame. This pattern of thought has been described by others as “the inner critic.” Examples of such thoughts are “I am…lazy, stupid, ugly, clumsy, fat, incompetent, unlovable etc., etc., etc.”
Expectations of one’s own failure or incompetence that precede an action or endeavor is another manifestation of shame-based thinking. “I will never get this right,” or “I know I will suck at this,” are common examples of such patterns of thought. Of course, such thoughts are often likely to produce a self-fulfilling prophecy and increase the likelihood of sub-optimal performance.
Core Shame Identity individuals are given to hyper-focusing on their own appearance and performance, especially when in a social milieu.In other words, they often describe themselves as being highly “self-conscious”. This tends to undermine one’s capacity for spontaneous speech and action, thus amplifying feelings of awkwardness that, in turn, leads to further self-condemning thoughts and appraisals.
Shame often compels comparisons to other people on the basis of certain traits, skills, abilities and physical characteristics. This can produce feelings of envy and escalate feelings of personal inadequacy.
These are just a few of the more common types of core shame identity based thinking. By recognizing these patterns and learning to recognize that these are manifestations of shame, one can gradually learn to be more mindful of the experience and therefore less closely identified with it. In a strange manner of saying, over time one can learn to not take them so personally.
It is important to realize that nobody is born with shame and an internal critic. This is the direct byproduct of conditioning and learning that has taken place over the course of early development. And so while these thoughts may feel like your own, they are in fact the internalization of voices and messages to which you were exposed to at previous points in life. So the question becomes…Whose voice is that? If you listen deeply, the answers will arise.