From shame to self-worth: development of shame spectrum feelings in childhood

August 6, 2015

Silhouette of tree isolated on white backgroundShame is a very primal emotion, one that has a lot of traction in the mind.

As we grow up, from infants to adults, shame elaborates many nuances, like the branches and twigs growing from a single trunk.

Let’s consider four common sources of shame spectrum feelings.

First, consider a young child who is continually signaling her state of being and her needs. Maybe her caregivers respond routinely with attunement, empathy, and skillful responsiveness: this sends messages, associated with positive feelings, of existing for and mattering to her caregivers, of being inside the circle.

Or maybe her caregivers ignore her signals, or continually misinterpret them, or simply have a kind of dismissive tone – “I’ll … Read more »

From shame to self-worth: evolutionary neurobiology of shame

Jbilo al atardecerHave you ever scolded a dog and seen him or her look guilty?

Obviously, animals do not have the elaborated textures of thoughts and feelings that humans do. But our emotions, even the subtlest ones, have their roots in our ancient evolutionary history. By understanding that history better, we do not reduce our feelings to animal instincts, but instead find illuminations from our past that paradoxically give us more choices in manifesting ourselves as fully human.

We can find two sources of shame spectrum emotions in our evolutionary history.

First, many animal species live in social groups with clear dominance hierarchies. Once those pecking orders are established, it can be lethal to challenge them. Consequently, … Read more »

Meditating with IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome)

May 11, 2014

Irritable Bowel Syndrome IBS and meditationSomeone recently wrote to tell me that she suffers extreme embarrassment when meditating with other people, because her IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) causes a lot of intestinal gurgling. She becomes self-conscious about these noises, finds that the anxiety about them dominates her meditations, and has been so upset at times that she’s left the meditation room in tears. Also, her anxiety around making noise actually causes her condition to get worse.

I can appreciate her anxiety. I think we’ve all had times when we’ve been self-conscious about bodily noises (gas, swallowing, coughing, etc.), but to have it be more than an occasional thing must be very hard indeed.

If you’re affected by similar problems, I’d … Read more »

Dealing with guilt and shame (Day 19)

April 30, 2013

Lotus, isolated on whitePeople use the words “guilt” and “shame” in different ways. I use “shame” to translate the Buddhist word “hiri” and see guilt as being something entirely different. And I think an awareness of this difference is very important to recognize when we’re trying to live with more kindness.

In Buddhist psychology shame (hiri) is a skillful rather than an unskillful mental state. This may be surprising! We usually think of “skillful” mental states as being pleasant, and shame is definitely not pleasant. In fact it can be rather painful. So what does it mean to say that shame is skillful?

Shame is considered to be a spiritually useful emotion — an emotion that leads to … Read more »