The more deeply shame-based an individual is, the harder it becomes to break the cycle of shame. In many instances, this cycle has become a “normal” part of life. But for others, this seemingly endless battle devolves into what seems more like a shame “spiral,” where toxic shame leads to even more shame, and the individual’s sense of identity, self-worth, and inner power concurrently spiral further and further down, to the point of self-deprecation, or even self-destruction.
Through the remainder of this chapter, I’ll be introducing you to each element of my perspective of the shame cycle in hopes you’ll better understand how we can literally get trapped in our own sin and shame. In thinking about what the most effective way might be to illustrate this, I’ve chosen to share an honest glimpse into my own personal story that I battled from adolescence into young adulthood.
Our conscious mind generates our conscious choices. Our subconscious mind generates our subconscious choices.
Much of what comprises our conscious mind is information we have accumulated, in one way or another, over the course of our lifetime. This is a myriad of information that allows us to make decisions throughout each day; from large (such as purchasing a house) to small (such as deciding which shirt to wear). The more reliable the information, the more accurate the decision.
However, unlike the conscious mind, our subconscious is not primarily made up of information and facts, but of life experiences and emotions – both productive and toxic in nature. Also, our subconscious houses the emotions that those experiences spawned. Practically speaking, the reason these are subconscious (beneath our conscious awareness) may be related to a range of factors:
- Lack importance or relevance in our current needs and priorities.
- Not aligned with what our conscious mind understands.
- Lead to undesirable outcomes.
- Too painful for us to consciously process.
- Rekindle memories of pain and loss.
- Occurred a long time ago.
Max-Planck-Gesellschaft, in their 2008 ScienceDaily article, entitled Decision-making May Be Surprisingly Unconscious Activity, concluded that,
Contrary to what most of us would like to believe, decision-making is a process handled to a large extent by unconscious mental activity. The brain actually unconsciously prepares our decisions. Even several seconds before we consciously make a decision, its outcome can be predicted from unconscious activity in the brain.
Six Defining Questions
There is a proclivity for our false beliefs to be linked to what we came to believe early in our lives were the answers to these six unspoken questions:
- Identity – “Who am I?”
- Significance – “Am I acceptable?”
- Worth – “Am I enough?”
- Intimacy – “Am I known?”
- Belonging – “Am I safe?”
- Maturity – “Am I complete?”
False beliefs largely smolder somewhere in our subconscious mind. These beliefs were created by how we interpreted shaming experiences during childhood, and they are solidified through “validating experiences” throughout adulthood. A validating experience is an encounter in our adult life that validates or reaffirms the already deeply held false beliefs we internalized during childhood. For example: If we don’t perceive ourselves as being overweight and have no insecurities related to our body image, then our feelings won’t be hurt if someone teases us about our eating habits or lack of exercise. But, if we are extremely insecure about our body image, having repeatedly been told by our parents that we’re chubby or lazy or unacceptable as a child, that shame message will be triggered by any type of comment related to our appearance, work ethic, or accomplishments, regardless the intention of the one communicating it.
Many times, the internalizing of a false belief is not necessarily based upon actual reality, but more on the child’s perception of reality. If the child craves a caregiver’s approval, and that adult seems disappointed when the child doesn’t get it just right, then the child will grow to become an adult who believes they are powerless to honestly share their opinion or needs or feelings without running the risk of losing the love, approval, and presence of that person. In a twisted way, they believe it is better to have no opinion, to minimize their own needs, or to stuff down their true feelings than it is to risk losing someone because they were honest with them. Is that thought based on factual information held in their conscious mind? Absolutely not. It’s far more real than that!
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