The topic of shame appeared recently in my New Wellness Story® Coaching Group, with a couple of individual clients, and in a training seminar. These stimulating discussions have prompted me to revisit some ideas and earlier writing about shame that are rooted in my former profession of Psychoanalysis, but require new consideration in Mentor Coaching. I am interested in any responses, resonances, and ideas that you have as a reader of the notions that follow.
Self-Esteem vs. Shame
Ideals and needs are at the core of identity, part of the foundation of self. Ideals are internal standards of excellence. Ideals serve as a personal model of value—an internal guide to purpose. Living up to a personal, attainable ideal generates a sense of worth and esteem. Failure to live up to an internal ideal results in the feeling of shame. Shame can be pervasive over a lifetime, while remaining masked to its creator.
There are two major detours from self-esteem to arrive at shame:
- In childhood, the ideal offered by parents of what is “good enough” is never attained, and shame results. Parents neither resonate with expansiveness, nor praise talents and achievements. Or even offer shaming remarks to make someone smaller: “Who do you think you are?”
- The ideal presented by parents is that females should be loving, kind, giving, and not have or act on her own needs; when she lives up to this ideal, she fails at her own growth. However, if she grows successfully, she fails to live up to this ideal. By adulthood, this internal model is a shadow that she can’t escape, one that can darken the joy of any success.
Shame is one of the most primitive human emotions we have—the most painful and difficult to deal with. It drives the sense of “never good enough.” The birthplace of shame is the fear of disconnection. In childhood, failure to live up to the ideals of parents threatens disruption of that bond. In adulthood, failure to live up to one’s own internal ideal as an adult threatens self-alienation along with shame. Since shame is the perpetual shadow story, behavior to counter this shame must persist.
The message of shame and shame-based dynamics are partly gender-related, especially in their expression. Perfectionism is a common adaptation to shame. “If I can do it perfectly, I can avoid shame, judgment, and blame.” An unspoken causal explanation is, “If I had just been more perfect, I could have avoided this.” And perfectionism looks different for males and females.
Some gender-specific expressions of attempts to counter shame:
- For females: be perfect, pretty, thin, quiet, helpful, loving and giving to others. Or the desire to spend and shop to counter the unconscious whispers of “You need to look better.”
- For males: be stoic, strong, unemotional, do more, and make more. Or the desire to compete physically or by expensive acquisitions to counter the unconscious whispers of “You have evidence of worth.”
Your Money Story
I work with many individuals in developing their money stories who need to understand the old story that contains a storyline of shame, to create new storylines of worth, belonging, and “good enough.” The new story defines attainable ideals—including growth and success—so that self-esteem can be generated internally.
Consider these questions:
- Are you writing your money story from a totally current model that allows abundance, gratitude, and fulfillment by attaining all that you are capable of doing and being?
- Do you have an end point of “good enough.”?