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Unraveling the Power of Shame Shadows: How to Overcome and Embrace Your True Self (Adapted from Finding Peace by Troy Love)

Updated: May 23

Everyone in life experiences painful events that sometimes create attachment wounds: It is part of being human, living in an imperfect world. Our wounds develop in many ways, for example, when our friends move away, or when someone close to us dies, we feel the loss. Perhaps our parent criticizes us to help us do better, but we lose confidence instead. Maybe a friend teases us and we take it to heart, or perhaps, we are bullied at school and always picked last for the team. These wounds if not processed can fester, cause us to doubt our worth and create negative thoughts and beliefs. Any whiff of an negative emotion, thought or sensory experience can remind us of the unresolved wound, even if it is very different from the original wound. Brené Brown reminds us that humans are designed to struggle by the nature of how emotions work. Consider that emotions are like a Jedi sword, they can lead us to confidence and connection, and they can also inhibit, paralyze and pull us away from connection when our wounds are unresolved.

The hurts and emotional bumps that we experience in life can be described as the six attachment wounds. Rejection, Loss, Abandonment, Neglect, Betrayal and Abuse.

To cope with the emotional wounds, "Shame Shadows" emerge to protect us from potential hurt. When our wounds are triggered, our shame shadows become active, attempting to defend us from further pain. However, these Shame Shadows are immature learned responses, not our authentic selves. The shame shadows operate as inhibiting defenses, encouraging us to conceal our needs and truth getting in the way of our goals and relationships. Shame Shadows carry negative beliefs and insecurities that we are not enough. Why? Because children are egocentric, that means they view what happens in life as being about them and hold self blame. Children do not have the ability to see outside themselves, so they attribute others actions to themselves, which is the nature of shame. When shame shadows show up, they act like glue binding us to our negative beliefs, so in shame we hide our true self and lash out at ourselves and others and often end up feeling alone.

Our shadows can get in the way of just about anything in life, especially if we are not aware of how we get hijacked by our shadows sprinting into action when something difficult happens. We often hear the shadows voices as truth, until we can connect to our inner knowing and call out our shadows and false beliefs. Becoming aware is the first step in letting go of negative beliefs. And, there is hope to finding a better relationship with ourselves and others. Janina Fisher tells us that under our wounds is a healthy, functional attachment system giving us the ability to have compassion. This means we can learn new ways of coping with problems and relational issues, and embrace our true self.

Let's meet the shame shadows:

The First Category is Judgement:

The Judge often, the loudest and most recognizable points out our flaws and chides us with criticism. The judge demands that we try harder. The judge asks us for perfection no matter how hard we try, the judge finds a flaw. " You never do it right", "You don't know what you are doing", "See, you ruined it again", "You are failing", "You are not enough", "Face it you are stupid, you can't do anything right. The judge tries to convince us that we are not good enough, not worthy of connection and love. In truth, the judge left unchecked robs our confidence, creates shame, stress, pressure and aloneness as we struggle to prove our worth.

The Royale is also a judgement shadow, only this one points at others. The Royal encourages us to blame and point out flaws. The Royal discharges, fear and pain onto others as an unhealthy way to feel better. Sadly, the royal disrupts connection with anger by pushing others away often leading to a cycle of isolation. and disconnection. The Royal asks us to look down on others and coaxes us to feel superior. The Royal encourages us to verbally push, poke and demand without considering the hurtful impact of blaming and shaming. Sometimes the royal can have loud tantrums, because it holds the pain and emptiness of current and past wounds. Left unchecked the royal is corrosive to relationships. The royal twists needs into protective blame. "You always let me down", "It is your fault, again", "You always overreact about everything", "You are too needy", "Just get over your feelings", "You are never happy", "You don't deserve me", "Be a man", "Grow up", "You are weak and always cry for attention".

The Second Category is Image:

The Politician Believes the judge that we are not enough and tells us to hide our flaws, no matter what! The politician is so fearful it tells us to wear a mask, fearing that we might be found out as an unworthy imposter. The politician smiles and does whatever it takes to win votes and likes from others. The politician encourages us to create a false sense of connection based on appearances rather than true connection and acceptance. The politician encourages us to make decisions based outside of our needs and our values. For example, the politician wants us to volunteer, or provide service for the sake of how we appear rather than because we intrinsically care. The politician helps others only as a way to self-promote and move up the ladder, not to gain a sense of purpose. Following the politician can lead us to resentment and even taking advantage of others for our own benefit. The Political tells us, "don't let anyone know that you feel insecure", "Make sure you are put together, so nobody can see your life is a mess", "Try to sound kind and don't let anyone know that you are annoyed", "Don't get too close to anyone, they will see you don't have it all together and reject you". "Just wear the mask, so people like you".

The Martyr Feels responsible and believes they must help or fix others to the point of sacrifice, or the Martyr tells us, we are unworthy. The Martyr also tells us our needs are not as important as others needs. The Martyr asks us to rescue others because it can't hold the emotional pain and struggle of those we care about. The Martyr also dictates to us that our responsibility is to take care of others first. "If you don't fix that then, nobody else will and something bad will happen and it will be your fault", "You only matter if you are helping others", "You need to sacrifice yourself to make others happy, dont be selfish", "You are the only one who can do it".

The Third Category is Power

The Impotent one Feels powerless and tells us to give up because nothing will ever change. This voice can sound like a victim. The impotent one is mired in negative thoughts and wants to give up to reduce the pain and longing for change. The impotent one blinds us from our power over our actions and choices. The impotent believes not will change. The impotent one says."I can't"... I can't do this, nothing will ever change". "I might as well give up, they will never change, there is nothing I can do".

The Rebel feels entitled and powerful. The rebel tells us it is okay to self-sabotage, break rules and how it impacts others isn't important. The rebel can be seen in addiction, compulsive behaviors, and emotional entitlement. The Rebel says,"eat entire cake, you will feel good, who cares, you worked overtime, you deserve it. So what if you have diabetes, it does not matter". The rebel might say "You had a hard week it's okay to go out and drink and stay out all night, you deserve to have fun, your spouse just has to deal with it, who cares". "Do whatever you want, just have fun, live in the moment, who cares if you miss work tomorrow". The rebel helps us numb out to consequences and cope with life stress in unhealthy ways.

Now let's explore ways to reduce the power of the Shame Shadows.

If you don't want your shame shadows to direct your life into numbing, anxiety, anger, shame and isolation, you can move away from your shadows and into authenticity.

  1. Become aware of your triggers and when your shadows are active. See if you can name, which shadow is active by writing down the words they tell you.

  2. One way to know if shame shadows are present when something happens is to ask yourself, what does that say about me?

  3. Share with close trusted friends. Shame Shadows have trouble interfering when shared out loud. They get quieter when challenged, so question them.

  4. Be kind and ask for your needs to be met. You may need to spend some time reflecting on your needs to know your true needs. Keep a list of needs, emotional, relational, financial, spiritual, and life goals.

  5. Make choices based on your values. Ask if yourself if your behavior is inside or outside your values.

  6. Remember shame shadows are not who you are, they are learned erroneous coping skills that never work.

  7. Therapy can help you replace your shame shadows with your truth by processing wounds and making space for your authentic self.


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