Authentic vs. Inauthentic Shame: Why It’s Essential to Know the Difference

Authentic vs. Inauthentic Shame: Why It’s Essential to Know the Difference

The feeling of shame has a reputation of being the vampire of emotions–the feeling that will suck the life right out of you. Because it comes with it a very physical discomfort, heat, and pain, it’s probably on your list of emotions to be avoided at all costs.

In this blog, I’m going to ask (and attempt to answer) the hard questions: Why do we experience shame? What utility does it have for us? What’s a person to do when they’re feeling trapped in a shame spiral?

First, to understand why we experience shame, we have to explore what triggers it.

 

Shame happens when you’ve broken an agreement that you’ve made with yourself. It is a faithful (and loud) reminder that you’ve strayed out of bounds and broken an internal “rule.” Sometimes shame goes ahead of you, before you’ve actually done the “wrong” deed, preventing you from taking an action that would be out of alignment with your values.

 Our internal “rules” are a mixture of AUTHENTIC and INAUTHENTIC shame, a concept pioneered by Karla McLaren in her book, “The Language of Emotions.”

 

AUTHENTIC SHAME:

AUTHENTIC shame happens when you’ve broken the code of your character or integrity. These “rules” are the moral code that you would apply NOT ONLY to yourself but to other people as well. For example, a part of my moral code is to not gossip. Every single time I find myself participating in gossip with a friend, a feeling of shame creeps up, informing me with its icky feeling that I’m out of line. My “rule” about gossip is one I would teach my children and one I’d hope all people would embrace.

AUTHENTIC shame helps you live a value-drive life. It acts like a curb, nudging you back to alignment with your deepest sense of integrity.

 

INAUTHENTIC SHAME:

On the other hand, INAUTHENTIC shame happens when you’ve broken internalized rules that apply ONLY to you. Here are several examples:

  • A student to has to get all A’s and feels shame for that lone B+ on their transcript.
  • A teen girl feels shameful disgust for the fat on her body because she’s taken in messages that fat is abnormal/wrong/shameful
  • A woman has a miscarriage and feels shame, believing this wouldn’t have happened to her unless there was something bad/wrong with her.
  • A man looks in the mirror at his receding hairline and feels a twinge of shame, as if he’s broken the rule that a man must have a full head of hair.
  • A professional’s voice shakes while giving a presentation at work, feeling shame because they believe it’s bad/wrong to display any form of anxiety in public.

INAUTHENTIC shame is triggered by breaking the “rules” you have for yourself that you would NEVER intentionally pass on to other people.

With INAUTHENTIC shame, there is likely a part of you that recognizes the harmful nature of your “rules.” You might recognize that it contributes to your experience of depression, low self-esteem, poor body image, or toxic perfectionism. AND, you might still feel stuck, buying into those “rules” despite your recognition of the double standard at play.

 

HOW DOES INAUTHENTIC SHAME DEVELOP?

INAUTHENTIC shame springs forth from messages you’ve received from the outside (a critical comment from someone or maybe even messages from the media about what an ideal person is like). It’s as if you’ve taken someone else’s garbage home with you, accepted it as your own, and lived with its stench day after day.

THE REALITY IS: Whether your experience of shame is AUTHENTIC or INAUTHENTIC, 100% of the time it is informing you about internal rules that you are breaking.

 

4 STEPS FOR BREAKING OUT OF INAUTHENTIC SHAME

  1. Start by labeling the shame as INAUTHENTIC, as something that has been applied to you and caused you harm.
  2. Identify clearly what “rule” you are breaking. What are the specific details of the rule? For example: The rule that I’m not allowed to make mistakes OR The rule that I have to do X, Y, and Z by the time I’m 30 or else I’m a failure.
  3. Ask yourself: Where did this rule come from? What has allowed this rule to take root in you over time? Whose garbage is this?
  4. Try out Karla McLaren’s CONTRACT BURNING visualization skill for a powerful and effective way of releasing that old “rule.”

 

If you’d like help shifting out of INAUTHENTIC shame, a counselor may be able to help. The counselors with Star Meadow Counseling love helping clients explore and alter the “rules” that have kept them stuck.

 

References:

Alexander, S. (2018). Mind Body Connections.
McLaren, K. (2010). Language of emotions. [United States]: Sounds True.

How to Ruminate Purposefully

How to Ruminate Purposefully

Do your thoughts ever end up stuck in the past, replaying a conversation or event in your head?

Susan Nolen-Hoeksema from Yale University describes ruminating as “a mode of responding to distress that involves repetitively and passively focusing on symptoms of distress and on the possible causes and consequences of these symptoms.”

You’ll know you are ruminating when:

  • You replay the same old memory over and over, like watching a video on a loop
  • You examine the memory in detail, play-by-play
  • You think (and re-think) about what you could have said or done differently to cause a different result
  • You try to remember exactly how another person reacted in order to evaluate yourself

Most people do not enter into ruminating thoughts on purpose. Instead, ruminating tends to be an automatic response and force of habit. You might even ruminate without realizing it consciously until you start feeling slightly (or a lot) embarrassed, anxious, disappointed in yourself, or guilty. Because the thoughts operate on auto-pilot, they are often unproductive. The thoughts can leave you with hyper-judgmental inner thoughts that have gone nowhere to propel you forward.

Have you ever paused to wonder: WHY ARE THESE THOUGHTS HAPPENING TO ME? WHAT’S THE POINT?

In her book, “The Language of Emotions,” Karla McClaren suggests ruminating might not only be replaying the past, but is in fact is the brain looking for NEW information. This new information might be of help to you in future, similar circumstances.

What if ruminating thoughts bring with them a powerful GIFT? What if you could channel their efforts into something that DOES help and DOES move you forward?

Here are some tips for ruminating more effectively and purposefully:

  1. Notice when you are ruminating and name it: “I’m ruminating.” This will help you shift into on-purpose self-reflection and away from a spiral into automatic negative thinking.
  2. Reflect back looking for learning points. What would I have done or said differently if I had a do-over? What did I miss that I’d want to watch for in the future?
  3. Avoid judging yourself. Labeling yourself harshly (Example: “failure”) serves no practical purpose and only causes you harm. In fact, rumination that is laden with negativity about yourself amplifies your experience of depression or anxiety.
  4. Be kind to yourself and intentional about practicing self-compassion. That means assuming the best about why you did or said what you did in those moments. In that moment, you probably did the best with what you knew. If practicing self-compassion is difficult for you, a counselor may be able to help.
  5. Some events we ruminate on were not in our control. Don’t take ownership of stuff that’s not yours, especially if it’s related to an experience of abuse.
  6. Know when to stop. The moment you realize that reflecting back is not helpful (HINT: You’re finding no further learning points), call it quits. There are a number of different strategies you can take to help you let go of unhelpful intrusive thoughts. Try out a cognitive defusion technique, prayer, or confirm to yourself out-loud: “These are just thoughts. They’re not helping anymore. I’m letting them go.” Some intrusive thoughts are harder to shake than others, especially if they’ve been around for a long time or if there’s trauma involved. Be patient with yourself and don’t be afraid to ask a counselor for help.

 

If you’d like assistance shifting out of a destructive pattern of rumination, a therapist at Star Meadow Counseling might be able to help. We love to see clients shift ruminations into something more constructive, useful, healing, and less self-critical.

THOUGHT DEFUSION: An Alternative Approach to Handling Intrusive Negative Thoughts

THOUGHT DEFUSION: An Alternative Approach to Handling Intrusive Negative Thoughts

Automatic negative thoughts are a natural part of the human experience. For the most part, we don’t conjure them up or think them on purpose. They happen instinctively.

 Negative thoughts get directed toward ourselves (“I can’t believe I’m running late again today! I’m going to get fired!”), toward others (“There’s Jim, walking in late; he’s so lazy.”), and toward our environment (“Stupid Portland traffic! It’s making me late!”). Sometimes negative thoughts are so pervasive that they can tank your mood for the day, or leave you stuck in a spiral of worries. These natural, instinctive thoughts can take on a life of their own!

In the book, “The Happiness Trap,” Steven C. Hayes describes what happens when we become “fused” with our negative thoughts:

  • Thoughts are reality: as if the awful thing we are imagining is actually happening
  • Thoughts are the truth: we completely buy-in
  • Thoughts are important: we treat them seriously and urgently, giving them our full attention
  • Thoughts are orders: we must obey them
  • Thoughts are wise: we assume they know best and we follow their advice
  • Thoughts are threats: we let them bother us or terrify us

He suggests that some “fused” thoughts may be helpful and others might not be as helpful. Those thoughts that ARE helpful and constructive are worth giving your time and emotional energy. For example, the thought that says “I can’t believe I’m running late again today” might prompt you to examine your morning routine, adjusting it to allow for more margin.

On the other hand, some thoughts are downright self-defeating and serve no useful purpose but to shame you, worry you, or leave you feeling stuck. It’s up to you to determine which thoughts are, in fact, not helpful. Those will be the thoughts you might be ready to “defuse” or disconnect from.

Here are some creative strategies for creating distance for those pesky negative thoughts that you need some space from:

  • Label your thoughts as thoughts (Example: “I’m having a thought that I’m worthless” feels different than “I’m worthless”).
  • Imagine your thoughts like clouds in the sky, just passing by. They can come and go as fast or slow as they please, simply watch and observe them without judgment. Become a fly on the wall observing thoughts, labeling them (“there’s a thought”), and letting them go on their way. Some thoughts are recurring visitors, appearing over and over. That’s okay! You can simply notice them and watch them pass on by.
  • Try out one of your particularly “fused” negative thoughts using the voice of a movie or cartoon character (how does it feel differently to say the negative thought using the voice of Micky Mouse or the voice of Al Pacino from The Godfather?).
  • Try singing the thought to the tune of “Happy Birthday” or “Jingle Bells.” Does it still feel the same?
  • Don’t only observe your thoughts, but also try shifting your focus to observing your body. Notice your breath–See if you can track your breath from the moment it enters your nose (cool and refreshing) to the moment it exits your mouth (warm and rushing). Notice how your feet feel in your shoes, where you feel tension, and where you feel at ease.

If you’d like to learn more about thought defusion, “The Happiness Trap” is an excellent resource guide. Thought defusion skills are an integrated part of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is another therapeutic approach that has been specifically designed for helping shift unhelpful, negative thought patterns in a more direct manner. A professional counselor can guide you in customizing coping skills so that you can shift out of negative thought ruts and feel free from their persistent haunting.

Quotes to Inspire Self-Acceptance

Quotes to Inspire Self-Acceptance

“You either walk inside your story and own it or you stand outside your story and hustle for your worthiness.”

Brene Brown

“The hardest challenge is to be yourself in a world where everyone is trying to make you be somebody else.” 

E.E. Cummings

 

“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity and an understanding of life that fills them with compassions, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross

“Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”

Dr. Seuss

“Once you accept the fact that you’re not perfect, then you develop some confidence.”

Rosalynn Carter

“Remind yourself that you cannot fail at being yourself.”

Wayne Dyer

“If only you could sense how important you are to the lives of those you meet; how important you can be to people you may never even dream of. There is something of yourself that you leave at every meeting with another person.” 

Fred Rogers

“Face your deficiencies and acknowledge them; but do not let them master you. Let them teach you patience, sweetness, insight.” 

Helen Keller

“Accept who you are. Unless you’re a serial killer.”

Ellen DeGeneres

“If you’re like me, practicing authenticity can feel like a daunting choice—there’s risk involved in putting your true self out in the world. But I believe there’s even more risk in hiding yourself and your gifts from the world.
Brene Brown

If you are ready to grow your self-esteem, self-acceptance, and self-worth, the counselors at Star Meadow Counseling are ready to help. Schedule an appointment today at (360) 952-3070 or email us at info@starmeadowcounseling.com.