Facing Shame

What exactly is shame? What is guilt? How are they different?


Maggie McKay (Host): If you've ever been shamed, you know it's not a good feeling. But what if the shame lingers and you want to get rid of it? Today, we'll get some guidance on how to do that with our guest, Ellie, from Sierra Tucson Alumni Relations.

Host: Welcome to My Miracle Radio, a podcast presented by Sierra Tucson Alumni Relations. I'm your host, Maggie McKay. Welcome, Ellie. Thank you so much for being here today. Would you please introduce yourself?

Ellie: Absolutely. Thank you so much. I am Ellie. I'm a mental health professional and have been in the field for a few years now.

Host: So today, Ellie, we can't wait to talk to you and pretty much break down what shame is, how to recognize it, how to release it and more. So, let's start with what exactly is shame?

Ellie: Yeah, absolutely. So, shame is essentially an emotional punishment that we use with ourselves. So if we look at the difference between that and guilt, guilt is when we're holding ourselves in contempt for making the wrong decision from our past. Maybe you feel guilty that you weren't there for a big life event or maybe something as small as you're crossing the street and someone honks at you.

The difference is that shame will tell us when we get honked at, "You're an idiot," where guilt says, "Eh, probably shouldn't have done that." When it comes to that, if we imagine ourselves as kind of this child, three or four years old, or maybe a child you know around that age, they may tell themselves, "I'm the fastest person in the world." They run around butt naked and not think twice about it. So, what shifted? Where do we suddenly have this belief about ourselves that, "Man, you're an idiot"?

Host: What are core values? How does shame relate to a core value that we have about ourselves?

Ellie: Absolutely. So, core value is a great one. It is essentially the main singular belief that we have about ourselves, so something we see as a flaw and all the negative thoughts are built around it. For example, if someone says, "Man, I really don't want to go to that event. People probably won't want to hang out with me there." Okay, so let's follow the thought. What would happen and what would it mean if people didn't want to hang out with you? Then what? "Well, I don't know. People wouldn't like me. Maybe people don't." Okay. Well, what if they don't like you? "Well, I guess that means I'm not very lovable." And then, there you have it, you're not lovable, right? So, tracing our thoughts back into that belief system of our fear, recognizing that and continuing on to find that phrase, that meaning, that we all believe in ourselves and a lot of times the positive affirmation that we hear a lot in general is I am enough.

Host: And where does shame come from? I mean, is it from your childhood or other people or yourself?

Ellie: So if we kind of go back to the idea of that three or four-year-old child, they're running around, they say, "I'm the fastest person in the world." One day, they're going to get to school and they're gonna run around on the field and realize, "Oh, maybe someone else is faster than me" or maybe a kid yells at them, "You're such a slow poke." We all learn one day that it's not appropriate to walk around naked everywhere. And so, this idea is kind of society and the world begins to build that core belief for ourselves. So when kind of that shame voice arises, that I'm not lovable, I'm not good enough, whatever that looks like, it's usually not our voice. It's usually someone else's voice, and being able to trace that back because we take it on so wholly that we truly believe this fact about ourself, maybe even that I'm a bad person. And so, being able to recognize, "Well, who first told you you're a bad person? Who made you believe that that was true about yourself?" And that's not necessarily to put fault back on other people, but being able to recognize that.

Host: So, that's one way to recognize shame, just sort of tracing it back, is that what you're saying? Okay. And how do you release shame, the big one?

Ellie: Yeah. So, a huge one is just being able to identify it, to separate that voice from your head. A lot of ways to identify the triggers are, "Okay, well, where do I feel it physically? When the 'proverbial shame monster' raises its ugly head, where am I feeling that? If I get angry at something I did, where do I feel that in my body? Is it tightness in my throat? Is it a fluttering in my chest?" So, knowing when that trigger of shame comes up for you, feeling that sensation being away.

And what it comes down to is instead of the cruelty behind it, look at the idea of you at three or four. Because we can beat ourselves up over and over and over again about all the things we did wrong, all the things that are wrong with us. But if you had little three or four-year-old you sitting in a chair right in front of you, you would never tell them those things. You would never say, "You're worthless. You're terrible. You're a bad person. You're not enough," you would never say that to a kid. And so, being able to visualize for yourself of, "You know what, little me's still in there."

So when we do get sad, when we do get hurt, I often ask people I work with, "How old do you feel right now?" And a lot of people can trace it back to almost a specific age. Like, "Man, I feel like I'm eight years old," and realizing, "Okay, then we have eight-year-old you in the room right now. How do we help them?" And so, being able to take that kindness and compassion towards ourselves and not seeing ourselves as this villain, but being able to look at the innocence that we have in us and being able to have that kindness towards ourselves, if we can separate this adult version that we have, so many horrible things to think about to this little innocent version of us that still lingers in all of us that still gets hurt.

Host: So, we just basically have to think about it and say, "It's not really reality. It's not the truth. It just goes back so many years"?

Ellie: I mean, in a sense, yes. I would say the biggest thing, like I said, is just the recognition when that shame monster rears its ugly head because it will, being able to recognize, "You are not my reality, You are warped and you are something that someone told me at some point, but you aren't necessarily the truth." and sometimes I know for a while I had a picture of little four-year-old me on my home screen of my phone, and anytime I'd feel that anger towards myself, I'd look at the picture of little me and be like, "No, you're not bad. You're a good person," and being able to kind of do that. There's a lot of other breath work, meditation, things that you can do along the way to help guide it, but consistently bringing your brain back on track and kind of doing that mental check of, "Is that true? Is it absolutely true with a hundred percent certainty?" And trying to gauge like, "Okay. Well how do you feel when you have this thought about yourself? How would you feel if you didn't have this thought?" Shame isn't meant to be some boogeyman that we must overcome in order to be happy. It is a universal emotion that we can learn to deal with in many healthy ways.

Host: So, you retrain your thoughts and the habit of feeling shame all these years. You just sort reset, I guess you'd say. How do people change as a result of this work?

Ellie: I think the biggest word that I would use for this is freedom. We are the captives of our mind in a lot of ways. And I think by allowing ourself the grace to be human, allowing ourselves to be kind and love that little kid in all of us, you get a sense of freedom in the world. Yeah, the guilt will continue to happen. Yeah, the shame monster may rear its ugly head every once in a while. But being able to offer yourself that comfort, that acceptance and giving yourself that self love, it gives you such a freedom in the world and a silence in your head.

Host: That's awesome. I feel like when you age, the older you get, the freer you get in that department. Because I've known so many people, it's not that they don't have a filter or that they feel they've earned the right to say whatever is on their mind or feel however they want. It's just that they've been through so many years of so much stuff that they know what to just say, "It's not important. Let it go."

Ellie: Yeah. Yes. And that is the voice that we all have to try to consciously work towards because it's there. You're right, when people get older, they're like, "You know, life's too short. I don't care." And we all have just that really critical part of us. And to get to that point of like, "You know what, this is me," and I think ultimately finding that authenticity within yourself.

Host: Ellie, is there anything else in closing that you'd like to add that you'd like people to know?

Ellie: Just remember, it's a day at a time. And the way that you're feeling right now, whatever's going through your mind, it will not feel like this forever.

Host: That's very good advice. Ellie, thank you so much for being here and sharing your experience. We so appreciate it.

Ellie: Of course. Thank you so much for having me.

Host: If you'd like to find out more about facing shame, please visit sierratucson.com. If you found this podcast helpful, please share it on your social channels and check out our full podcast library for topics of interest to you. This is My Miracle Radio, a podcast from Sierra Tucson Alumni Relations. Thank you for listening.