I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn’t) (2008) is a guide to the visceral and thoroughly human emotion of shame. These blinks explain this complex feeling, discuss how it arises and describe ways in which empathy and connecting with one another can help humans heal.
There are plenty of uncomfortable topics of conversation that most of us will try to steer clear of, but one subject that people particularly loathe discussing is the emotion of shame. As a result, many of us don’t have a proper understanding of what it really is.
Shame is a visceral emotion whose exact characteristics are difficult to describe, but at its core, it has to do with a feeling of not being good enough. Articulating such an experience can be difficult – after all, discussing shame requires us to, at least to a certain degree, relive the pain it causes.
That being said, when the author interviewed over 300 people about how they experience shame, she discovered a theme; shame is a negative feeling connected to a sense of rejection and the exposure of aspects of ourselves that we tend to hide.
Based on this information, the author put together the following definition: shame is a deeply painful sensation that stems from the belief that we’re not good enough, and that this shortcoming will prevent us from being accepted by and belonging to a group.
But how does shame arise?
Most often, shame occurs when people seek compassion, but experience rejection instead. For instance, one participant in the author’s study spoke about how her mother persistently shamed her because of her weight. When the participant visited her mother, the first words out of her mother’s mouth would be about how she was still fat, and the last would be about how she hoped her daughter could lose weight before they saw each other next.
Or consider another participant whose mother committed suicide when she was in high school. It was a time when she needed support and compassion, but she was instead ostracized by her fellow students for being the daughter of a crazy lady who hung herself.
Even from these examples, it’s clear that a lack of empathy precipitates shame, and that’s precisely what we’ll explore next.