Shame can definitely be felt on a continuum. It can be experienced as anything from mild embarrassment to deep humiliation where you want to disappear. I once heard someone say her shame felt like “being thumbtacked to the wall and flailing around but not being able to do anything or get anywhere”.
There is truly a sense of powerlessness when shame floods us. We can, at times, know that what our inner voice is saying is not true, but can’t really act on that knowing or get away from the horrible feeling of shame. It can hit us in seemingly benign situations as well as in ones that we have placed a lot of importance on.
Normally when we are hit with shame we go very internal. We disconnect from what is going on or being said in our immediate environment. We cycle around and around the same situation, trying to find a way out of the distress, but unable to. (This is what many experience in the middle of the night when they keep replaying a scene or situation.) We “what if” or “if only” or try to figure out how to “make up for” or “make amends to”, to try to get out of our pain.
Often we are flooded with a sense of deep rage- destructive feelings toward self or other. We want them to hurt like we hurt or suffer like we suffered. We go into a self-defeating addiction or behavior and are unable to stop. There is a compulsiveness to our thoughts and/or behaviors.
Shame feels untenable. We can’t tolerate it but it also is usually a very familiar voice or behavior we are entrenched in. It is so important to begin to realize that when we are in this familiar place that we are in a “shame cycle”. There are truly truly ways out of this shame, but again, we have to name it first.
I work with a very clear and definitive shame cycle with clients. We learn to identify when shame is engaged and how to step out of it. I will be sharing more about this in my blog, and I also do this in my one to one sessions.