Healthy “Shame” can be Transformative.
To grow and advance in maturity and happiness, it is necessary to experience “shame.” Without shame one does not overcome nor can one recognize the character flaws, the faulty conditioning, the egocentric tendencies which permeate our thoughts, words, and actions and which are serious obstacles to a life of wellbeing and abundance and joy. In short, a healthy shame can lead us to recognize our delusions and shed them.
Western Cultures View Shame as Corrosive to Wellbeing.
In the West, shame is not a desirable quality. Indeed we hasten to assure ourselves and others that we lack compassion when we feel ashamed, that it is normal to make mistakes.1 Instead we need to realize that shame lowers self-esteem, that it impinges on the ability to have healthy relationships, that it impedes the ability to do well in school, that it hurts one’s chances of securing worthwhile employment and of achieving success in life.2
Shame Lies at the Lowest Level of Consciousness.
In the West, we think of “shame” as crippling, as destructive to developing a happy, well rounded, confident personality.3 Esteemed scholar and spiritual leader/teacher/exemplar David Hawkins (recently passed), an MD (psychiatry) and PhD (Doctor pf Philosophy), who has had and continues to have a large following of students of enlightenment, puts “shame” at the bottom of his famous “scale of consciousness.”4 Shame is the product, he says, “of a severely egocentric mind with the emotional and survival instincts of animals.”5 He maintains that “Someone at this level feels humiliated, has low self-esteem, and is paranoid. Common feelings by someone at this level include feeling like he/she has ‘lost face,’ wishing that he/she be invisible, and feeling worthless. Some individuals react by becoming overly rigid or neurotic perfectionists. Vibrating at this level for prolonged periods leads to elimination (of self and others), such as suicide, turning into serial killers, rapists, or moral extremists who apply self-righteous judgment onto others. A person’s life view at this state is misery.”6
Freud Connects Shame to Early Sexual Experiences.
Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, maintains in his seminal work The Ego and the Id7 that shame is the result of being exposed as a child to one’s nudity and/or defects and has the characteristics of being feminine and passive. He also suggests that self-reproach, the outcome of guilt around early sexual experiences, and the accompanying fear of others knowing about those experiences spawns shame. One is preoccupied hiding and/or denying one’s shame and consequently has no internal resources left to embrace life fully and courageously or even to engage with it. In his later work, Freud sees shame as the result of guilt.8
Carl Jung Develops the Freudian Understanding of Shame.
Marc Jacoby, a renowned Jungian analyst and the author of the highly acclaimed Shame and the Origins of Self-Esteem, A Jungian Approach9 argues that lack of self-esteem is the real cause of shame. He agrees, in general, with Freud’s study of shame and comes to a similar conclusion: both shame and the lack of self-esteem underlie a host of problems: shyness, avoidance of being in public view, fear of intimate relationships, anxiety, inability to achieve genuine happiness, depression. Jacoby, in the first chapter titled “The Phenomenology of Shame and Shame-Anxiety” posits that “there is an overlap between shame and guilt.” He goes on to suggest that guilt is the cause of shame.10
Some Criminals Have no Shame and Do not Lack Self-Esteem.
Later scholars and subsequent students of the subject of shame differ in degrees with both the Freudian and Jungian approach.11 One study demonstrates that some criminals exhibit an amazing amount of self-esteem and no shame. H.B.Kaplan et al propose that delinquent behavior serves to enhance self-esteem for individuals who have experienced failure and lowered self-esteem.12,13
Is There a Healthy Form of Shame?
Given the prolific amount of significant studies by Western scholars on the corrosive effects of shame and more recent contradictory quantitative studies by psychologists who suggest that shame can be redemptive under certain conditions, can one posit that it is necessary to experience shame in order to grow and advance in maturity and fulfillment, that healthy shame can be transformative?
Self-Assessment Provokes a Healthy Shame
Miriam Adahen, Ph.D. a psychotherapist and author of five books on domestic abuse argues in Shame and Unhealthy Shame,14 that in order to grow in maturity and achieve happiness, it is necessary that we take full responsibility for any mistakes we have made without in any way blaming others. The habit of regular self-assessment alerts us to the areas in our cultural and familial conditioning, in our education, in our relationships, in our finances, in short, in all those aspects of our lives that lead either intentionally or unintentionally on our part to be dishonest, to be disloyal, to be less than fully truthful, to be lacking in integrity, to be in any way manipulative in thought, word or deed. And we feel a healthy shame over our self-inflicted delusions. That healthy shame spurs us to want to release ourselves from those delusions. It gives us the courage to make the changes necessary to be genuinely free of the chains and bonds that imprison us. The practice of self-assessment demands that we be courageous in pursuing the Truth.15
In her book, Healthy vs Unhealthy Shame – The Shame Project,16 Sarah E. Ball discusses at length the effects of both a healthy shame and unhealthy shame. She says “…understanding the difference between healthy and unhealthy shame, will help us to measure whether or not our feelings of guilt and shame are appropriate and there to guide us to better choices, or self-destructive, or worse non-existent. Healthy shame tells you that what you did was wrong. Healthy Shame is a balance between knowing what is morally right or wrong and having remorse for our actions and taking responsibilities for our mistakes. There is nothing shameful about feeling shame. It is simply a part of our wiring. While shame can be debilitating, it can also be an early warning system for when we’re poised to break trust and injure a person. Such friendly shame protects us from doing or saying something that might come back to haunt us. Such shame enables us to preserve trust and safeguard our relationships.” She urges us to embrace shame! “Noticing healthy shame that informs us when we’re violating another’s boundaries and dignity can help us become more sensitized to how we’re affecting others.”17
A Modern Master Advocates Healthy Shame as a Path to Transformation.
Mahendra Kumar Trivedi, author of the Trivedi Effect,18 urges all to not only embrace the healthy shame that acknowledges our failings, our mistakes, and our delusions but in so doing to practice daily the self-assessment that leads to maturity, wellbeing, and happiness, and ultimately to transformation. That self-assessment, which he calls by its Hindu name, Chintan, requires that we must first look closely at our childhood and every subsequent phase of our lives until the present. We must first note the misfortunes we have endured and the mistakes we have made. We then ask ourselves honestly: Do we blame others for those misfortunes and mistakes? Do we allow our negative experiences to dictate the way we now live? And if we do, are we willing to undo day by day, step by step the conditioning we find ourselves enslaved by? The self-revelations that result lead to an honest and cleansing experience of healthy shame, and that shame propels us to eradicate our intentional and/or unintentional dishonesty and our delusions about our ourselves.19
Valid Self-Assessment Requires Vigilant Work.
When we realize the nature of our delusions, we must regularly retrace the events of our day to note how and why we have fallen back into old conditioning and to take responsibility for that regression. A healthy shame forces us to consistently take full responsibility which leads to a growing and cleareyed process of maturing. This vigilant self-assessment or self-analysis is essential to growth and leads over time to calmness, peace, and a fulfilling life.20
Regular self-assessment is necessary and revelatory.
Through regular practice, we begin to notice major changes in our lives. We find ourselves letting go of unhealthy relationships and of attracting healthy ones; we begin to understand the nature of genuine love and consequently cease to relate dishonestly to others by pampering them or ourselves in order to gain favor and/or false self-esteem. We find that our level of integrity in all aspects deepens: in finances, in productivity, in truth telling. As we grow in maturity our priorities begin to shift, and as a result peace and happiness and healthy productivity begin to dominate our lives. Our devotion to truth deepens and deepens, and feelings of healthy shame alert us to occasions that can lead us to betray truth and consequently to lapses in growth.21
Conclusion: Healthy Shame Can lead Us to Transformation.
Healthy shame, then, rather than “being the product of an ego-centric mind,” can be as we have seen, the trigger that serves as an alarm system preventing us from falling back into old destructive, delusional habits. Most importantly, it can be the agent that leads us forward and upward to higher and higher levels of consciousness and ultimately to transformation.22
7. Sigmund Freud. The Ego and the ID. Pacific Publishing Studio. 2010
12. W. Alex Mason. “Self-Esteem and Delinquency Revisited (Again):
A Test of Kaplan’s Self-Derogation Theory of
Delinquency Using Latent Growth Curve Modeling.” Journal of Youth and Adolescence
Vol. 30, No. 1, 200
18. www.triveditestimonials.com/about-us MAHENDRA TRIVEDI IS RECOGNIZED throughout the world for his ability to transmit a powerful form of energy known as The Trivedi Effect®. The experiences of over 200,000 individuals throughout the world have demonstrated the impact of The Trivedi Effect® on human wellness.
Guruji Mahendra Trivedi is an innovative thought leader offering fresh, insightful, honest perspectives on today’s issues affecting humanity at practical and spiritual levels