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Syndicated Columns

The shameful thing is a deed, not a person

Posted March 25, 2006

Q. I grew up in an environment where I constantly heard the phrase "shame on you." How can I reverse the effects of hearing this over and over? -- B.J.B.S., Wellington

A. When someone says "You ought to be ashamed of yourself," they mean you did something they believe to be shameful. Sometimes, the phrase is shortened to "Shame on you." This implies that rather than the deed, you are wrong.

Shame is associated with one's core being, rather than with one's actions. In Facing Shame, therapists Fossum and Mason state: "While guilt is a painful feeling of regret and responsibility for one's actions, shame is a painful feeling about oneself as a person."

From John Bradshaw, the author of Healing the Shame That Binds You, we learn that healthy shame is needed to establish limits in childhood. Since young children are unable to associate cause and effect by themselves, a parent or caregiver can help them know their boundaries and establish trust.

Make sure you are not shaming yourself. Find out if you connect your internal self-worth with external conditions as in "I lost, therefore I am a loser," or "He rejected me, therefore I am no good."

Leo Tolstoy said, "I am always with myself, and it is I who am my tormentor." Recognize that your own divinity has always been intact. Only thoughts have clouded your perception, so you can reverse the effects of shame by affirming your worth.

Be kind and loving to you. Forgive yourself. Allow yourself to feel deeply again, and trust that your innate goodness will shine through.

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