This week we spotlight one of our favorite episodes, "How to Overcome Shame."
Shame is a soul-eating emotion, according to Carl Jung, but we actually believe shame is a necessary part of being human. We explore the root of shame as we continue our series on emotions. In this episode, we discuss:
How to Overcome Shame Transcript
Debra Maldonado, Robert Maldonado
Debra Maldonado 00:06
Hello, everyone, this is another episode of Soul Sessions with Creative Mind. Before we begin, I want to remind everyone to subscribe to our channel below if you are on YouTube and if you are following us on iTunes, please be sure to subscribe so you don't miss any episode. How are you today, Rob?
Robert Maldonado 00:26
We're continuing our series on emotions. One of the least understood or most misunderstood emotions is shame. We're going to delve into this idea of shame, maybe debunk the myth of toxic shame a little bit. The way we see emotions, there are no bad or good emotions. There are emotions we need to live in the world, all emotions are useful. Whether we experience them as good or bad often is our own interpretation.
Debra Maldonado 01:15
Let's start off with the difference between shame and guilt. How to work with shame, then really overcoming it, how to recognize it, and how to overcome it. The first one is the difference. What is shame? What is guilt? A lot of people mix them up, I know I did.
Robert Maldonado 01:39
They certainly overlap. We don’t experience most of these emotions in isolation. Anger, shame, regret, guilt all go together. But it's useful to think what is this certain emotion we've identified, labeled and pathologized? What is it talking about? Guilt is the idea that you did something wrong. I did something wrong, I am guilty of that behavior. Shame appears to be more related to the self concept of I’m not good, there's something fundamentally wrong with me. It's not just the behavior I perform, some actions I took out of recklessness or desperation. But there's something wrong with me fundamentally.
Debra Maldonado 02:49
We could feel guilty about keeping boundaries. We say no to someone, we feel guilty, but we don't feel like I'm terrible. Sometimes people think I'm a terrible person because I did that, that would be shame. But you could feel guilty that “I feel bad that I hurt that person or I did something that may have made someone feel upset with me or angry.” That guilt is a natural response because we have empathy in our DNA to feel other people's feelings or sense what other people are feeling. That's where guilt comes from. But shame is more personal, we personalize our behaviors. We make the things we do define who we are. That's how the ego is developed and measured. Many times ego wants to look at itself. All the things I do, everything I accomplish, how people think of me is all defined by that ego self.
Robert Maldonado 03:49
There are different models of it. Just like in all psychology, there are different approaches to the mind, to working in a therapy model or in a coaching model. A lot of it depends on what model people are using to work with shame. Certainly, from our coaching perspective, in the Jungian model that we use, we see these emotions as useful. They're useful emotional energy, that we can put to good work, to good use, instead of approaching them as we need to heal them, we need to get rid of them, we need to somehow escape them. In the Jungian coaching approach, we move towards them, we actually invite them in because we want to make the unconscious conscious and what are emotions if not our unconscious mind, meaning it's a record of what we've absorbed instinctually, intuitively, through the emotions, and that the mind has held on to as “This is important information for you. Hold on to this.” We operate unconsciously through these emotional imprints that are in our unconscious mind.
Debra Maldonado 05:09
But wouldn't you say that universally as human beings we have the roots of shame and guilt in our DNA because we are social creatures, we need those?
Robert Maldonado 05:22
We need them because how would we know how to relate to others in these very fluid relationships we have as human beings. If you think about a group of people, a tribe or a family, interacting among many individuals in very complex, very subtle ways, with strong emotional bonds, how else would you know when you need to repair a certain relationship, when you've transgressed against somebody else, or when you've done something really rotten and should be ashamed of yourself, you need to take responsibility and own up.
Debra Maldonado 06:05
If we don't have guilt or shame, we do terrible things to people. That would go on the borderline of the insane that do terrible things because they don't have that sense of empathy or understanding of another person’s pain, another person's feeling.
Robert Maldonado 06:25
Some of the definitions of psychopathology and personality disorders has to do with lack of empathy, that somebody doesn't have that sense of shame or guilt about what they do to other people.
Debra Maldonado 06:38
If you're shaming and guilting yourself, you're perfectly normal.It's not a terrible thing that we have to fix in ourselves. It's more about how we understand it and work with it. What are the roots of shame? Why do we have it besides the genetic socially passed down from thousands of years of evolution of us becoming human beings and living in tribes and communities, what is the psychological root?
Robert Maldonado 07:10
If you think why would we experience shame as something negative and absorb it as “Is there something wrong with me?”, in a lot of psychologies, especially psycho therapies, the model is that anything that is diminishing the self worth, diminishing the sense of self, is pathological. Therapy is designed to cure that or to address that issue.
Debra Maldonado 07:48
You're not normal if you're feeling insecure, or having self esteem issues. There’s something you need to get to fix.
Robert Maldonado 07:58
That's implied because we have friends that are therapists, and they tell us “I don't necessarily see my clients as broken.” That's not what we're saying. We're saying that it's implied in the context of therapy, in the model you're using. If it's a therapy model, it implies there's something to fix, there's something to to work on. We know human nature to be very contextual, whatever context we're in socially, we adapt to that. These are unspoken rules. If I'm sitting across a therapist, or somebody with a lab code, a doctor, a physician, I take the role of a patient, meaning I'm passive, you're going to do something to me, you're going to help me fix something, help me. That person is going to play the role of the healer.
Debra Maldonado 09:01
You're called a patient, not a client. In coaching, it's a client, not a patient. Even that word “patient” is implying that there's some illness there.
Robert Maldonado 09:14
A lot of the popular models out there, you see books on toxic shame that are derivative of those therapy models. Nothing wrong with that, it's important information for people to have out there. But when that's the only lens that people see shame through, then when they experience shame, or they've had these experiences of shame in their past, they pathologize it, they think maybe there is something wrong.
Debra Maldonado 09:48
I shouldn't feel this way, this is a terrible thing, I want to get rid of my shame. It's just negative vibration. When we think about that idea of the coaching model of shame, what would you say that is about? I see it as a natural emotion we all deal with, guilt and shame. It's in the definition and the self concept we have to look at in cognitive behavioral, which is a very popular way. Think positive and say “I'm good enough”, that actually builds up the ego. In Jungian theory, we're talking about transcending the ego.
Robert Maldonado 10:38
I have a lot of personal experience on this. As a young person, I felt shame in a lot of different ways. The tendency of our mind is to push it into the unconscious mind. This is where it gets toxic, or where people start to call it toxic. It becomes the filter through which you see everything. This is unconscious, meaning I wasn't going around saying I'm a bad person, or there's something wrong with me, therefore I'm going to experience everything through this lens. It happens automatically. When you repress those emotions, those feelings and you think “I'm just going to emphasize the positive, let me think positive.” I was a very positive thinking person at the conscious level. But at the unconscious level I was feeling pretty rot. What happens when people push it away, when they're not able to express that feeling or acknowledge it? Because if it's labeled as something bad and toxic you don't want to acknowledge that stuff, it doesn't feel good to you. You don't want to move towards it, you want to push it away, meaning repress it. Then it becomes toxic in the sense that it starts to filter, or it is the filter through which you experience life unconsciously. On the surface you think I'm doing my best. But let's say something great comes up in your life, a great relationship, a great job. Because you're filtering it through that sense of shame in the unconscious mind, you have to sabotage it, you have to make it bad, you have to prove to yourself that you're not worthy of these great things in your life. Because inside you feel shame.
Debra Maldonado 12:43
You can still feel conscious of it, but not really get to the root of it. You can feel like you're aware that you feel not good enough, but you not really the unconscious part. Is that emotional root? Is that what you're saying? Because there's people that don't realize they have it. They know they’re insecure. My very first personal growth workshop I went to was a self esteem workshop. The woman made us do activities, change your thinking, change your thoughts. It was a lot of cognitive behavioral things, which is great because that gets you started on, at least giving you some tools. But the thing is, we are just redefining our ego. What you said is that no matter how much someone praises you or wants you to be accepted, you'll find a way to sabotage it because you feel, maybe not even realize it but you're trying to gain approval, but you disapprove of yourself. You'd reject the approval, like a friendship or relationship or even a parent giving you a compliment, you take it as a criticism.
Robert Maldonado 13:59
That's a good point. A person can be conscious of what they've experienced in the past but be unconscious of what really they're holding on to unconsciously in the end, what they're repressing. The very fact that they're conscious of it, but labeling it as pathology, I'm experiencing toxic shame or low self esteem, as it used to be called, there's something wrong with me. That's an important contribution to the way they experience the emotion as well because they are labeling it as pathology, as something wrong with me. That's the way you experience it. We know consciousness works that way. Whatever we contextualize as what I'm experiencing, that becomes our way of experiencing it, working through it, the way of giving it meaning in a sense. People that are conscious of their shame but are labeling it and identifying it as something to get rid of, something wrong with them, there's something needing to be fixed — that becomes their paradigm of experiencing it.
Debra Maldonado 15:18
What you're saying, and I've experienced this myself as well is that you could be conscious of that you're not good enough. Then how you actually try to fix it is to think more positive, shine up your persona. But also it should make some achievements — I'm going to make more money to prove I'm good enough, I'm going to find a relationship, someone that loves me so I can feel that I'm worthy of love. I'm going to impress my parents so they give me the accolades I've been waiting for. We're consciously trying to change the external, but the root is still feeling not good enough. What happens is that we sabotage it. Even if we have success, we destroy it, even if we have great relationship, we push it away. If we don't deal with the unconscious piece, we're still in a cycle of working, chasing it out there, rejecting it out there, and still stuck with this feeling. What we need to do is go deeper and understand what is really going on, understand it's not something to get rid of, it is something to understand.
Robert Maldonado 16:32
It's something to make conscious. That's essentially the Jungian model, whatever is going on in the psyche, we should not be afraid of it if we're willing to invite it into awareness, to be conscious of it, to acknowledge it, and work with it. If it's our own mind, why would we push certain elements away and say “I don't want to look at that.” That's where people get into trouble. Because as soon as you push something into the unconscious, it has more power to be experienced externally.
Debra Maldonado 17:11
An analogy I tell my clients is imagine a little child walked into your room and was crying and needed comfort, and you're saying “Don't cry, you shouldn't cry, you shouldn't express those feelings. You shouldn't be like that.” You just dismiss the child. That's what we're doing to these feelings of shame. We’re just saying “You're not a part of me, you shouldn't be that way.” What do you think would happen to that child if it's constantly pushed away? It doesn't go anywhere, it doesn't resolve or help that child, what you really want to do is talk, it's like talking to a part of ourselves, not our inner child, but just talking to a part of ourselves and understanding and becoming conscious of what's inside with the energies. It has a lot of energy there. Let's invite it in. Let's see what is there.
Robert Maldonado 18:01
We can talk more about how we work with it. But you had mentioned that when you were working with single women, coaching them, a lot of them had shame in their psyche, in their mind.
Debra Maldonado 18:15
They were ashamed many times of just being single. They’d dread having to go to the family functions, weddings, and getting triggered every time someone says “Do you have someone special in your life? When are you going to meet someone?” They would feel this “I'm not a part of the club. I'm not a part of the love club, the couple club.” I used to feel that way too, that feeling you’re accepted because now you're a couple and that's how society set up. If you're single, you're flailing out there in the middle of the ocean without a life raft. You're waiting for someone and putting all that pressure on that other person to save you from shame. What you're going to do is you're going to attract people into your life that reinforce it versus actually change it. At first, maybe you feel temporarily lifted, this person likes me. But either they'll be really annoying, you can't handle their love and accept it. You push the people that love and accept you. Or you sabotage it and find a way to be too needy and push them away.
Robert Maldonado 19:25
Let's look at that scenario from a therapy model. The idea would be this person is experiencing toxic shame that injures their self worth, their self image, their self esteem as it used to be called. We're generalizing and simplifying for the sake of an example. There are great therapies out there that work really well to help people. But that's the general approach. There's something missed because of the shame, this person shouldn't feel ashamed, they should be able to deal with this in a more healthy constructive way. What happens in that model is the individual is pathologized, their emotions are pathologized. There's natural emotion because if we look at the evolutionary perspective, the shame is there to give them a sense of what they should be doing with their lives and their relationships. It's saying if you want to be respected and fit into the group you value, you've grown up around, you should be married, you should be in a healthy relationship where you should have children. From the coaching model, we would say, let's just take that at face value, not that there's something wrong, but simply that the mind is indicating because of its evolutionary history. It's saying you should try to be like the other people and fit in. Is there anything pathological about that? No. It's simply the way the mind works.
Debra Maldonado 21:29
Seeing it from a less personal place, but seeing it as this is how the mind works. I had someone coach me way in the beginning, before I met you. She helped me write down the reasons why I wanted a child because I was like “I really want a baby so bad.” When I wrote down the reasons it was all about fitting in, it was all about family pressure, feeling that my family would accept me more if I had the traditional life that everyone else had, and that there was some sort of security in that. I was really surprised by that simple exercise of why do I want this. Just questioning “Is this what I really want? Or is this my ego just fitting into the old conformity of patterns that makes me stick with society?”
Robert Maldonado 22:16
The approach is very different from the get go. Very different and it leads to very different places. If you approach it from a brokenness model, of course, it's going to lead you to maybe you feel some relief that you're able to talk about, you identify it as “I have some syndrome, some pathologies, some adjustment disorder, or a self esteem problem.” But it doesn't really get to the core of the psyche which is in the unconscious mind. The Jungian coaching model says, if you see this as “This is a natural part of the process, I might not like it”, and you don't have to accept it, you're going to work with it, you're going to do something about it. But you don't necessarily approach it as something pathological in you, you're simply saying this is the way the mind works. If I want to transform it, I will have to accept that it is part of my mind, it's arising, that emotion is arising within me. I have to do something about it. Not externally, not satisfy the group and get into a relationship because it's going to make me feel better.
Debra Maldonado 23:34
It's a security, you're seeking to sooth the ache. It's like scratching the itch, you have this itch of your conditioning. You scratch it with external things and then it comes back, it's something that keeps itching, it's never enough. No matter what you do, it'll never be enough.
Robert Maldonado 23:54
Jung says the inner work, going into the unconscious and becoming conscious of that, becoming conscious of the content in your personal unconscious, what it does, liberates you from wanting to fix it externally, needing to compensate outside by either conforming and saying “I'll get into any relationship just to fit in”, or “I'm going to be angry at this group because they're forcing me to conform”, and pushing them away, rebelling. Which is the same, it's just the opposite side of the coin. Jung says the work is about accepting that that is part of the inner work that you have to do to come to terms with that context, your experience in that social context and to make a decision to say “I choose to be alone.”
Debra Maldonado 25:05
You want to make it a choice. Your conditioning, your family pressure, the social pressures make you conform to an idea.
Robert Maldonado 25:16
That is much healthier and much more satisfying because it liberates you from conditioning, you're not running away from the emotion, the emotion is the way you reach that consensus, the way you work with it, because it identifies where your personal development work is. The emotion is the work itself. It's the opportunity, whereas often in therapy models, it's seen as a problem, a pathology, something you need to get rid of, gloss it over with positive thinking or positive thoughts. In the Jungian coaching model, the shame would be the good stuff, because it's going to give you the key to your freedom.
Debra Maldonado 26:17
There's also the element of understanding that this is the nature of the mind, the true freedom and liberation come from when you realize you're more than just your mind, your mind isn't all who you are. It's the ego’s construction of reality, its perception and self concept. But beyond that is our true self. We are more than our minds, we're not the mind itself, the mind is a function. It's not our identity. I think we all identify with our thoughts way too much. We think “I have this thought, this is my thought. Since I have this thought, this is who I am.” Actually we're more than just that, more than our thinking. How do we overcome shame? We don't want to get rid of it. But how do we transcend it?
Robert Maldonado 27:06
As I was growing up and became interested in Jungian psychology, Eastern philosophy, neuroscience, I started looking for answers in those things. I learned the medical model, therapeutic model really well, because I had to apply it with my patients and in groups also, I did a lot of group therapy, family therapy, individual therapy. People experiencing these emotions, shame, guilt, past traumatic experiences, etc. There is nothing wrong with those models. The intention of people that practice this is to help the individual. I think anyone that trains for years and years and practices these things, it's a noble profession to try to help other people and to be a healer in a sense. The only problem from my perspective was that it was within the context of a medical model, which means there's something wrong, something broken. It's a gray area because there are people that do require that approach, that have been through wars or severe family traumas, they need that approach for a while at least. But to be able to transcend or to overcome these powerful emotions that are in the unconscious mind — and this came from Eastern philosophy — the approach was of course there's human suffering because you have a body and you're experiencing these emotions, you're experiencing suffering in that sense, but it doesn't necessarily mean there's anything wrong with you. It doesn't mean you're broken in any way. It simply means that's the way the mind works. When you are over identified with a persona, ego, personality, you’re experiencing things from that limited perspective of I-me-mine, therefore it's always limiting and can’t be fixed. It can’t lead to a complete liberation or transcendence of that experience. Because you're still caught up in that paradigm of I have to fix this, I have to get rid of it.
Debra Maldonado 30:18
When we think about the persona shadow, the persona, the shadow, the two sides of the coin, this shame, the opposite of shame would be acceptance, acknowledgement of others, belonging. We get attached to those things. There's nothing wrong with wanting those things. But we’re trying to get those things because we feel shame, we need the opposite to prove that we shouldn't feel ashamed, it works against us. What we're really saying is, you're seeing two sides of the coin. This is how I work with it. I sit with the emotion and always ask this question “What's my secret wish here? Why does this bug me? Why do I feel so terrible that this happened?” All I wanted that person to accept me and acknowledge me, then I got to see my attachment to the outside, and it's like “I have to give that to myself.” You become more of an inner authority versus the outer authority giving you that pat on the back. Once you have that inside, the outside shows up differently. But if you're half-trying to get it out there, but feeling bad here, you're going to keep getting, it's never going to be enough. It's no matter how much money you make, how much success you get. Even a relationship, the person could love you to death and it will never be enough. You'll always be wondering “Are they going to leave me? Did they love me today? Are they losing that feeling?” It'd be so uncomfortable to be in a relationship and going back to relationships. I see this happen a lot when my clients first meet someone. They're measuring like “Do they text me? Do they not?” It's a lot of anxiety. What they're really working with is shame. They're really working with “I want you to acknowledge me, I want you to tell me I'm okay.” Giving this stranger all that power who just met you, you don't have any idea what their past is. Or any person, whether it's a boss, whether it's a colleague, whether it's someone you admire, to give them so much power to acknowledge you, you give yourself away. It's about reclaiming the power. It's not making it wrong. It's saying “I've lost my power here.” It's a great red flag for you. When you go inside and acknowledge it yourself, the outside will change, you will stop getting those people that ghost you or the boss that does not give you that promotion, or the clients that aren't showing up for you if you're a coach, everything shifts when you realize where you’re, where you're hooked in. Does that make sense?
Robert Maldonado 33:00
Shame, especially when it's unconscious, can play in so many different ways. Definitely low self worth, self sabotaging behavior, running away from incredible opportunities, because you don't feel like you deserve those things, or that you could live up to those things in the long run. Physical symptoms, we know some of the work that's been done in the mind body area, when there are these powerful emotions like guilt and shame and grieving that have not been brought to the surface, the person holds them in in the unconscious mind. They come out as physical symptoms, as autoimmune problems, as chronic illnesses. That's why we emphasize moving towards them in an open friendly way. Why an open friendly way instead of trying to get rid of them and cure them? Because it is part of our psyche, it is like saying “My hand hurts, therefore, I'm going to chop it off and get rid of it.” You don't want to do that. You know it's useful and it's part of you, you want to accept it, rehabilitate it and pay attention to it.
Debra Maldonado 34:31
Doesn't it also help you understand other people and what triggers them and why they get clingy or hiding? As a boss you understand your team members, maybe you can understand to have empathy, like I get why she's afraid to ask for a raise or why there's a hesitation here or why her feelings got hurt when I didn't tell her she did a great job or something like that. I see this when my clients are always talking about their boss that never gives them those accolades or gives the other person attention. They make it in their mind that the boss doesn't like them. Then when they approach the boss, the boss is like “You're doing a great job, I don't need to constantly coddle you.” But we understand why people act a certain way, when they get into this shame, we all share it. It's like a humanity. We all have it. Whether we acknowledge it or not, to have more compassion for others, and humanity.
Robert Maldonado 35:28
People think “When Buddha was having this enlightenment experience, he was dealing with these goddesses tempting him, or the demons trying to distract him from his goal.” But actually he was probably working on resentment towards the father who tried to protect them from suffering in the world, and sense of abandonment or rejection by the family, or his sexual impulses that he had to bring under control, very human things. If you look at his teachings, that's what he was talking about. How do you do these things? You have to work with your mind. That's the emphasis in Jungian coaching, you're simply working with your mind in a natural way and accepting that any of these impulses, no matter how badly people label them and how terrible they appear to us, are simply part of our human experience. They're there to teach us something. We have to approach them in an open friendly way. We have to say “What are you here to teach me?” Often the best coaches are people that have gone through those difficult situations themselves because they're learning it from the inside out. They're not just reading from a book or learning some technique. They're going through transformation themselves, approaching their mind, accepting it, bringing it into awareness, into consciousness, integrating it.
Debra Maldonado 37:14
It's a softness and tenderness. I see a lot of anger that arises around shame. You get angry at yourself or angry at others for not acknowledging you. It comes across as you feel as though people are mad at you, why are they being so mean. Is there an element of projecting shame on others?
Robert Maldonado 37:43
Anything that's unconscious, you're going to tend to project it onto others and to the external surface.
Debra Maldonado 37:51
If you haven't resolved shame, you'll tend to be a shamer. You're like “I'm perfect.” But you pass it on.
Robert Maldonado 38:03
You pass it on to the next generation. In a sense, we're saying “I can't deal with it, you work it out.” We are saying that to our kids, to our sisters and brothers.
Debra Maldonado 38:16
Generation after generation. That's how we've dealt with it. Either we retreat or we shame and blame others, we move that energy somehow. That's not really the way to work with it. To work with it is to bring that tenderness and compassion toward ourselves. Then we'll have more tenderness and compassion for others. So great topic. Any last words before we go?
Robert Maldonado 38:47
Keep in mind the way to work with these powerful emotions, definitely acknowledge they are powerful. We're not dismissing them. We're not saying that's just shame, don't worry about it. We're saying you're going to have to work with it. But to work with it with this approach of friendly, open, accepting, letting it guide you, letting it teach you something about the nature of your mind, about the nature of your life.
Debra Maldonado 39:26
Being an observer of this feeling versus in the feeling, step back and be that observer. You see you're not the mind, this is not who you really are, your true self can never be harmed, can never be shamed, doesn't need that external acknowledgement. It's just the ego that needs that, we’re conditioned to get everything we need externally — food, shelter, friendships, society, but the true self doesn't need all that. We have that battle between our human and spiritual self that we're always dealing with. How do we become a spiritual being and be aware of our humanity at the same time, tender to ourselves when we do the wrong thing or say the wrong thing to someone. You just have compassion for yourself, we're all acting out of our own conditioning. Most people are walking through the world blind to their own conditioning and out of ignorance. There are very few people, unless you're really sick, who intend to harm anyone. We're all trying to survive. Sometimes we may do something that would hurt someone, but we don't realize it. We have to have compassion and not guilt. The guilt is good to show us what might have been wrong, but not to shame and say “I am a terrible person, I deserve terrible things to happen to me because I did these things.”
Robert Maldonado 40:59
The resentment against the shamers, the people that taught us shame. Often we hold this grudge and resentment against that. As long as we hold on to that resentment, we can’t really process our experience of shame properly.
Debra Maldonado 41:21
Most critical people are saying more about themselves than about you, we have to remember that when someone is shaming you. It's more about them, they don't even know you. That's something to remember to not take things personally. When we’re triggered use it as an opportunity. We’ll see you next week on another Soul Sessions. Thank you for joining us. Feel free to write a comment below, ask us questions. Don't forget to subscribe to our channel on YouTube and to our podcast on Apple, iTunes and Spotify and all the rest. Take care and hope you're enjoying the series, we'll see you soon.
Robert Maldonado 42:09
Thanks for watching. See you next time.