What Is Identity Shame and Where Does It Come From?
Shame is a painful feeling that comes with harsh self-criticism, humiliation, and a deep-seated belief that one is bad at heart. Although shame and guilt typically overlap, there is a significant distinction between these feelings.
Both shame and guilt arise when we violate our society’s and our own internal values. But unlike shame, guilt involves constructive self-criticism that results from realizing that you have done something wrong to someone else rather than self-condemnation.
Shame is a feeling of being wrong, whereas guilt is about doing something wrong.
What is Identity Shame?
As kids, many people internalize shame and carry it with them into adolescence and adulthood. Identity shame can start when a child goes through a traumatic event or a series of traumatic events. It can also be caused by actions you took in the past that hurt other people or by being told repeatedly by a parent or caregiver that something is wrong with you. For instance, if you experienced parental neglect or abuse, you can internalize the idea that you somehow deserved it.
These things can make you feel like you’re not good enough, wrong, or worthless. However, you may also feel shame when your superego condemns and disapproves of you for failing to meet your own moral standards.
How Do We Develop Identity Shame?
As children, we tend to suppress hurtful feelings and experiences that we cannot fully understand or cope with.
Suppose your parents or other primary caregivers raised you in a place where you felt uncomfortable, anxious, or limited. In that case, you might have picked up identity shame and kept it into adulthood.
Children can be deeply affected by messages they receive from significant attachment figures. For example, hearing things from your parents such as “Good girls never do that” or “You are a bad boy” can leave you feeling ashamed for the rest of your life whenever you feel watched or evaluated by others, whether they are there or are only in your mind.
What Does Shame Feel Like?
Shame can affect you in destructive ways because it prompts you to dwell on your own shortcomings and makes you believe negative things about yourself, diminishing your sense of self-worth. This can lead to self-limiting beliefs or mental health issues like anxiety, depression, eating disorders, drug use, and other problems.
Common Characteristics of Shame-Based Behavior and Identity
The following are some common characteristics of shame-based behavior and identity:
- You feel worthless and inferior
- You are highly self-critical
- You feel disconnected and isolate yourself from others
- You always apologize for things that aren’t your mistake
- You feel exposed
- You don’t trust others
- You can’t develop and maintain meaningful relationships
- You use substances to cope
- You are not able to accomplish your goals of following your dreams
- You become easily offensive
- You are a perfectionist
- You feel stuck in life
How Shame Affects Us Mentally and Physically
Shame affects your identity and makes you want to be flawless, no matter the cost. So, you might take on more responsibilities than you can handle, leaving you tired and ashamed because your inability to reach your unreachable goals makes you feel like you’re not good enough. This can have long-term mental and emotional effects, but it can also affect your physical health.
How to Move Past Shame-Based Identity
Shame is a powerful emotion that can have lasting effects on your health and well-being. But the good news is that it is possible to unlearn negative ways of thinking and acting that cause shame and get rid of an identity based on shame.
Reconnect with and Care for Your Inner Child
Issues with mental health, poor self-esteem, codependency, obsessive habits, and so on might have their roots in your formative years. Even though we’re adults, most of our adult experiences stem from our troubled inner child.
An inner child is the essence of who you are – the total of your memories and experiences from the earliest age. What you’ve done and remembered affects your growth, mental health, and relationships with others.
So, you need to do some deep work on your inner child if you want to learn to accept yourself and get over an identity based on shame.
Eliminate Toxic Self-Talk and Beliefs
Your toxic self-talk and beliefs can profoundly impact all aspects of your life. They can damage your confidence and self-esteem, strain your relationships, and decrease your chances of happiness and success.
So, use affirmations and gratitude to become more kind to yourself and learn to forgive and love yourself.
Using Exercise and Movement to Physically Remove Shame
Many studies have shown that movement and physical activity are good for your body and mind.
Exercise and movement can help reduce the activity of the amygdala, which is the brain’s center for stress and anxiety responses. This reduces the reactive and anxious responses linked to shame and gives you more conscious control over your thoughts and actions.
Closing Thoughts: Using Self-Compassion to Move Beyond Shame
Learning to treat yourself like a close friend can help you stop negative self-talk and get over identity shame. A professional life coach can assist you in learning to treat yourself with self-compassion by helping you understand the ever-present human imperfection.
As human beings, we are not perfect. We all make mistakes and hurt ourselves and others, intentionally or not. Coaching can help you develop healthy coping skills to overcome identity shame and start living the abundant life you deserve.