Day 12. The Shamer
Its Motivations: To make you a ‘good person’ without ‘bad’ impulses.
The Fear It's Driven By: If you don’t do as I say, you will not be a good person who is accepted in society.
Underlying Beliefs: The most important thing for a person is to be accepted by society. It is better to follow the herd rather than be you and run the risk of criticism, judgment and rejection. Good people don’t ever put a foot wrong.
Look Out For: Very religious family members or upbringing. A rules upbringing. Messages about how “money is the root of all evil”, “masturbation is dirty”, “sex is for sinners”, etc. Being blamed for abuse or neglect you’ve experienced. Big family secrets. Being cut off after doing something regarded as ‘bad’. Feeling as if you have no reason to live because who you are is “wrong”. Depression. Addiction. Being bullied. Codependency. Hiding your sexuality. Not allowing people to get to know you in case they think you’re ‘bad’.
The Shamer inner critic lives in fear of shame so spends it’s time keeping you in a perpetual state of shame - it can find the shame angle in just about anything leaving you jumpy, anxious and typically associating what could be quite a long list of things with not being a “good person” even though it’s very possible that you’re not even sure what the hell that means anymore.
It leaves you with the impression that it’s best not to trust you because your impulse is to want to do something that it has an issue with.
Making you feel bad when you could be feeling good and ensuring that you feel extra bad when you’re experiencing difficult emotions or have experienced disappointment, when you go to do things that others take for granted or you try to even be a bit risqué, you’re overcome with shame. Maybe you feel bad about sex, having money, eating, having a drink etc. Maybe you feel really cautious about certain things because The Shamer chimes in so that you don’t over-something.
The Shamer like all inner critics is beyond OTT, doing stuff like treating you like an addict if you have a bad hangover, even though it’s just a hangover, not the result of actual alcoholism.
If you sleep with someone who wasn’t your partner, even if you have no interest in a relationship, this critic will shame you so that if you don’t hear from them (and you hadn’t wanted to anyway), it now becomes that you were “slutty” or you feel compelled to chase after them to justify [the sex] so you feel less shamed which often leads to staying in a relationship or situation long past its sell-by-date.
Contrary as ever, after berating you into shame and obedience, it shames you for feeling ashamed and not doing your own thing. Jaysus!
The Shamer backing track taps on feelings of shame, blame, guilt, fear and obligation to keep you compliant and because it’s been running amok, each time you experience change, conflict, criticism, disappointment or rejection, it pipes up, so you now associate all of these with shame. It’s like, See, I told you that this would happen. You should have listened to me.
Here’s the irony: Sure, sometimes you don’t feel too great after something happens but actually, the most likely reason why you feel so frickin’ bad is because of everything The Shamer has been piping up with and what you’ve been responding back with, not the actual event.
If I/we (the inner critic and inspiration) feel ashamed of you then you are not a good person - don’t disappoint me/us. Don’t make me/us look bad.
The messages that you've picked up along the way that form and feed The Shamer, while they in part are going to be inspired by younger parts of you that were hard on you over past experiences or that used shame as a reasoning habit, there’s someone or a group of people that are key to this pattern of shame. You might be so acclimatised to being around that person or group that you haven’t noticed the subtle and not so subtle messaging that has left you feeling inferior. If this critic is based on a reasoning habit, it might be due to taking the blame for experiencing abuse in childhood (or even having been blamed and unsupported by family).
If The Shamer is inspired by one or both of your parents or other caregivers or even a group or community, a lot of the messaging was not about you - it was giving you big clues about their own issues and their own self-concept. Some people are so heavily reliant on being part of a group (community, church, their extended family) that shaming the people around them is used as a way of managing them. These people are treated as extensions of them. You were not really allowed to have a separate identity. You do well, they’re looking good and doing well. You put a foot wrong and you’re bringing shame upon them. It’s also not uncommon for caregivers to have taught shame around things that they were contradicting. The amount of people who teach shame about sex who are up to sexual mischief is quite scary.
Sometimes the shaming comes about from fearful parenting, so fear that you were going to turn out like you-know-who, again as if you have no distinct identity. You were taught then that this other person who had caused them shame had used up all the mistakes credits. They likely meant well (unless they didn’t) but it taught you the wrong messages. No filter again. No sense of trusting you and there’s an underlying message of, “Put a foot wrong and you will be abandoned, by us, by society.”
You might judge you by virtue of your background because if you were always hearing stuff about, for instance, children of unmarried parents, you’ve been taught to feel bad about something that has no bearing on your worth and is through no choice of your own.
It could be that you were bullied and then unsupported and shamed for what you’d been through, seeing you as a ‘weak’ person.
If you were prone to worrying and wanting to please, you may have been sensitive to certain issues that were going on around you and the problems that were resulting and made a decision, “I don’t want to end up like that”. Or, you looked at someone who was ‘in trouble’ and through a child’s eyes and ears, it sounded so terrible what they were going through that you resolved to be the compliant one, the who always pleases, the one who never shames. This was your way of helping out. As an adult you might logically know what’s up but emotionally, you fear those old consequences.
You may also have become so entrenched in your role of being compliant and even obedient that you might wonder who you would be without following all of the rules and dodging shame.
You don’t have to think too much and it puts your life in someone else’s hands, only problem being that you’re likely unhappy with the life you’re leading and not feeling as if you’re being true to you.
The big problem with shame-led lives is that you’re going to go down one or both of two paths - doing the ‘right’ thing and doing whatever it is that you were told to do or rebelling. The first is highly likely to lead to a relationship that has problems due to blind spots or issues that you weren’t made aware existed. You might think, How the eff is it that I’ve followed all the rules and now I’m married to a narcissistic, abusive, pillar of the church and the community? Or the relationship ticks the boxes and is ‘safe’ but all of the feelings of shame mess with your worth so you rebel, having affairs both emotional and physical, or engaging in other passive aggressive behaviour.
You might find that you’re leading a double life, presenting one image to say your family but then ‘rebelling’ behind the scenes even if all that involves is going out, having fun, and exploring who you are as a person. You might be straight at home and gay elsewhere. This might fill you with shame though, not necessarily because you actually think this stuff is bad but more that you might be doing the thing you dislike in them (leading a double life) plus it’s exhausting to lead a double life and omitting good parts of your life out of shame, leads to big problems.
You might have a long history of inappropriate partners. If your parents said that they’d near have heart failure if you married outside of your race or religion, that’s who you’re going out with.
You might be terrified of pursuing the career you want or feel at the mercy of a bully at work or even be trying to befriend them to keep on their good side, which only recreates more feelings of shame.
It might be that you’ve experimented with drugs or alcohol or other habits and have taken to trying to escape your feelings of shame, liking who you are when you’re under the influence. Of course, it might numb feelings or give you an upper but then it just feeds into the vicious cycle of shame.
You are carrying the burdens of other people’s shame.
It will be nice to have a conversation in your head that doesn’t involve good vs bad. Why does shame always have to come into it?
JOURNALING: Do you identify with The Shamer experience? Write about the ways in which this habit has manifested itself in your life – locate your specific habits of thinking and behaviour. Is there anyone from your past that has influenced The Shamer’s tape and if so, who are they and what did they teach you about life? What were the reasoning habits that you used to explain their behaviour and outlook? For instance, were your parents controlling themselves and passing their insecurity onto you? We don’t always make the link between our fear of shame around a certain subject and then when we finally notice these, we wonder how we couldn’t have before. For example, I hadn’t realised how much being brought up in Ireland and going to a convent school had embedded messages about being ‘proper’ and sexuality. If there are traumatic experiences that you’ve been through, this is the time to get the additional support you need to unburden you and heal - you do not deserve what you have been living with every day.
Don’t forget to use the Resources to help you to work through feelings that come up – the Releasing Exercise is ideal for homing in on the memories that trigger shame so that you can understand the presence of The Shamer in your head. If you start to bring down the emotional charge, you will feel a lot less triggered and under siege. Unsent Letters are ideal for distinguishing you from others, forgiving you and using compassionate enquiry to think about what you can do next.