Shame: A Legacy of Trauma
The emotion of shame occurs when we perceive that a boundary has been crossed. When we internalize this feeling as “I am bad, broken, tainted, unredeemable” it becomes highly toxic and maladaptive. This interpretation commonly occurs when we experience a internal conflict such as: our belief systems lack the flexibility to adapt to our complex world or when our two biological safety systems give us conflicting messages.
We are born with two biological protection systems. The attachment system which encodes our caregivers proximity and presence as safety, and their absence as danger. The second system is our nervous system which subconsciously scans (called neuroception) our environment for threat engages the appropriate fight/flight, fawn/freeze response based on it’s perceived threat level.
But what happens when our attachment system’s desire to be close to our caregiver conflicts with our neuroception of that person being scary or dangerous in some way? This answer to this question is called structural dissociation. In a nut shell our brain separates the problem into two tasks and creates two separate parts of the brain by using left & right hemispheres to each deal with one of two problems. Typically the left brain (logic & language) tries to go on with normal life by avoiding the suffering; while the right brain (emotion & sensation) manages our suffering.
Creating parts helps us survive but also has long-term consequences if we are unable to integrate these needs. Often the left brain harshly judges the right brains coping strategies and the right feels abandoned by the left. This often leads to feelings of hypocrisy, shame, self-hatred and self-alienation.
Self-alienation reflects the fact that victims of trauma often survive by denying part of their personality that manages the suffering. The price of this defence mechanism is maintaining the denial or self-hatred for the disconnection long after the danger has passed. Trauma survivors often report better functioning as a result of their compartmentalization but also feel like frauds or that they are pretending. Without an explanatory paradigm that makes sense of these contradictions, there is no way for individuals to know that their intense feelings and distorted perceptions are evidence of fragmentation, not proof of internal defectiveness or fraudulence masked by the ability to function.
Continued self-alienation results in growing self-loathing, detachment from emotion, addictive or self-destructive behaviour, and internal battles between vulnerability and control, love and hate, closeness and distance, shame and pride.
We have found combining the mindfulness-based approach to integrating parts called Internal Family Systems and Observed Experiential Integration’s ability to separate left & right brain parts to be the highly effective in integrating our internal conflicts and resolving self-alienation.
“Creating parts helps us survive but also has long-term consequences if we are unable to integrate these needs. Often the left brain harshly judges the right brains coping strategies and the right feels abandoned by the left. This often leads to feelings of hypocrisy, shame, self-hatred and self-alienation.”
Registered Clinical Counsellor