From Shame to Self-Worth: Introduction

From Shame to Self-Worth: Introduction

In this three part series, we will look at where shame comes from, in human evolutionary history, and in personal development. There also are three quite powerful exercises in seeing through, releasing, and replacing (with worth) any feelings you may have along the shame spectrum.

The spectrum of feelings in the territory of shame include:

•  Inadequacy – Sense of being unfit, useless, not up to the task, inferior, mediocre, worthlessness, less than, one down, devalued

•  Humiliation – Embarrassment, disgrace, degradation, loss of face, slap in the face, comedown

•  Guilt – I did something bad; [I know it]

•  Shame – I am something bad; [they know it]

•  Remorse – Contrition, regret over wrong-doing, feeling abashed, self-reproach, conscience-stricken

These are powerful, sometimes crippling, even lethal emotions (e.g., people killing themselves for the blemishes they think they placed on their family’s honor).

There is a place for healthy remorse in a moral person. But for most people, the shame spectrum of feelings is far too prominent in their psychology – typically not so much in terms of feeling chronic shame, but in terms of how they pull back from fully expressing themselves to avoid the awful experience of a shaming attack.

Why it’s worthwhile to feel worthy:

•  Simple fairness

•  Increases well-being

•  Increases health: you are more likely to invest in medical care and good wellness practices if you feel you are worth caring for

•  Builds the self-confidence that supports making the sustained efforts that lead to accomplishment – which creates positive cycles that build self-worth

•  Helps others by (A) not being insecure and needing endless reassurance (can get annoying), and (B) frees internal attention and energy for being of benefit to them

The Opposite of Shame: Self-Worth

Let’s begin our journey at our destination, the sense of self-worth that is the opposite of shame. Its core elements include:

•  A clear-eyed, reality-based seeing of the true mosaic of oneself: the strengths, the good intentions, the successes and accomplishments, the thousand small unrecognized daily deeds of goodness

•  Self-respect, self-esteem

•  Confidence

•  Inherent sense of value as a person, with the right to be here just as you are

•  Fundamental independence of external approval. As the 8th century Tibetan sage, Shantideva, said, “Why should I be pleased when people praise me? Others there will be who scorn and criticize. And why be despondent when I’m blamed, since there will be others who think well of me?”

•  Ultimately, a sense of innermost being that transcends categories of shame or worth

In the days and weeks ahead, we encourage you to keep moving from shame to worth.

Exercise: “What’s A Good Quality You Have?”

You may need to be a little creative to do this exercise on your own, or even better, with a friend.

Here are the instructions for the exercise, which you can adapt freely:

A’s ask B’s these questions, or some variation on them:

What is a good quality you have?

What is a good thing you have done?

In response to the question, B’s find a succinct answer. It’s okay if A’s need to ask something for clarification, but mainly A’s listen.

Then A looks inside and tells B genuinely: I see __________ in you. Or: I believe __________ about you. A’s, only say what you sincerely think.

When A speaks, B’s focus on taking in the ordinary but vital experience of having a good quality or accomplishment seen by another person. Quick reminder: let a good event (A seeing that about you) become felt as a good experience. Have that good experience be big and strong in your mind and body, savor it and make it last. Get the sense of this good experience soaking into you, sinking into your body and mind, and becoming a part of you.

Then A ask the question again – What is a good quality you have? Or: What is a good thing you have done? – and repeat the process.

Dr. Ramani Durvasula is a licensed clinical psychologist, author, and expert on the impact of toxic narcissism. She is a Professor of Psychology at California State University, Los Angeles, and also a Visiting Professor at the University of Johannesburg.

The focus of Dr. Ramani’s clinical, academic, and consultative work is the etiology and impact of narcissism and high-conflict, entitled, antagonistic personality styles on human relationships, mental health, and societal expectations. She has spoken on these issues to clinicians, educators, and researchers around the world.

She is the author of Should I Stay or Should I Go: Surviving a Relationship With a Narcissist, and Don't You Know Who I Am? How to Stay Sane in an Era of Narcissism, Entitlement, and Incivility. Her work has been featured at SxSW, TEDx, and on a wide range of media platforms including Red Table Talk, the Today Show, Oxygen, Investigation Discovery, and Bravo, and she is a featured expert on the digital media mental health platform MedCircle. Dr. Durvasula’s research on personality disorders has been funded by the National Institutes of Health and she is a Consulting Editor of the scientific journal Behavioral Medicine.

Dr. Stephen Porges is a Distinguished University Scientist at Indiana University, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of North Carolina, and Professor Emeritus at both the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Maryland. He is a former president of the Society for Psychophysiological Research and has been president of the Federation of Behavioral, Psychological, and Cognitive Sciences, which represents approximately twenty-thousand biobehavioral scientists. He’s led a number of other organizations and received a wide variety of professional awards.

In 1994 he proposed the Polyvagal Theory, a theory that links the evolution of the mammalian autonomic nervous system to social behavior and emphasizes the importance of physiological states in the expression of behavioral problems and psychiatric disorders. The theory is leading to innovative treatments based on insights into the mechanisms mediating symptoms observed in several behavioral, psychiatric, and physical disorders, and has had a major impact on the field of psychology.

Dr. Porges has published more than 300 peer-reviewed papers across a wide array of disciplines. He’s also the author of several books including The Polyvagal Theory: Neurophysiological foundations of Emotions, Attachment, Communication, and Self-regulation.

Dr. Bruce Perry is the Principal of the Neurosequential Network, Senior Fellow of The ChildTrauma Academy, and a Professor (Adjunct) in the Departments of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago and the School of Allied Health at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia. From 1993 to 2001 he was the Thomas S. Trammell Research Professor of Psychiatry at Baylor College of Medicine and chief of psychiatry at Texas Children's Hospital.

He’s one of the world’s leading experts on the impact of trauma in childhood, and his work on the impact of abuse, neglect, and trauma on the developing brain has impacted clinical practice, programs, and policy across the world. His work has been instrumental in describing how traumatic events in childhood change the biology of the brain.

Dr. Perry's most recent book, What Happened to You? Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing, co-authored with Oprah Winfrey, was released earlier this year. Dr. Perry is also the author, with Maia Szalavitz, of The Boy Who Was Raised As A Dog, a bestselling book based on his work with maltreated children, and Born For Love: Why Empathy is Essential and Endangered. Additionally, he’s authored more than 300 journal articles and book chapters and has been the recipient of a variety of professional awards.

Dr. Allison Briscoe-Smith is a child clinical psychologist who specializes in trauma and issues of race. She earned her undergraduate degree from Harvard and then received her Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of California, Berkeley. She performed postdoctoral work at the University of California San Francisco/San Francisco General Hospital. She has combined her love of teaching and advocacy by serving as a professor and by directing mental health programs for children experiencing trauma, homelessness, or foster care.

Dr. Briscoe-Smith is also a senior fellow of Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center and is both a professor and the Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at the Wright Institute. She provides consultation and training to nonprofits and schools on how to support trauma-informed practices and cultural accountability.

Sharon Salzberg is a world-renowned teacher and New York Times bestselling author. She is widely considered one of the most influential individuals in bringing mindfulness practices to the West, and co-founded the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts alongside Jack Kornfield and Joseph Goldstein. Sharon has been a student of Dipa Ma, Anagarika Munindra, and Sayadaw U Pandita alongside other masters.

Sharon has authored 10 books, and is the host of the fantastic Metta Hour podcast. She was a contributing editor of Oprah’s O Magazine, had her work featured in Time and on NPR, and contributed to panels alongside the Dalai Lama.

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