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.

5 Questions to Uncover Your CORE VALUES

5 Questions to Uncover Your CORE VALUES

Core values are words that describe a person’s inner compass. Core values provide people with direction when they feel stuck, lost, or at a crossroads. They help you prioritize what’s really important in life. They reflect what gives a person their sense of meaning and purpose.

 

Values are different than goals, because you can’t check them off a to-do list. They are an ongoing, lived-out state of being. They aren’t something you do just once! A person living a value-driven life can more easily weather ups and down, even during those times that goals get derailed. They’re able to reorient to what’s most important to them because these values are a constant force of character.

 

Values differ from person to person, and even those with similar values might disagree in how they prioritize one over the other.

 

To help you identify your core values, you’ll find 5 reflection questions below. Write out your answers to the prompts, if you’re ready!

 

  1. Looking back on your life, describe a “mountaintop” experience. This is a moment when you felt the most joyful, exuberant, and on top of the world. What were you doing? Who were you with? How did you get to this point?

 

  1. Imagine yourself at your 90th birthday. What do you want to be remembered for? What will you look back on and think– “Yes! That was worth it!”

 

  1. If you were to unexpectedly inherit $50 million dollars, how would you spend the money? What would you do with your time if you no longer needed to work to earn money?

 

  1. Who are the two people in your life that you most admire? What qualities do you see in them that you aspire to?

 

  1. Think about a challenge you’ve experienced in the past. How were you able to get through? What strengths did you exhibit that may have helped you overcome that hard struggle?

 

After answering the questions above, take a look at this list of Core Values, produced by Living More, LLC.  See if you can identify the 3-5 top values for each of the writing prompts, which should give you a total of 15-25 top values. Then, from those top ranking values, try to narrow them down to a Top 5.

 

What’s next? You can create a personal mission statement formed from your top 5 values. It could start as simply as this: “It’s my mission in life to…..”  If you’d like help exploring your values or processing your personal sense of purpose in life, a professional counselor is able to help.

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.