I use the term shamework to describe the process of unlearning the toxic shame that has been put upon us. Yes I said 'unlearning,' and I said 'put upon us.' Because we learn shame through being told that something about who we are, how we behave, where we come from, what we prefer, or how we look is not good enough. Is disappointing or faulty somehow.
There’s another element of shamework which is very similar to what many of us know as shadowwork. Shadowwork is a Jungian term that refers to the process of identifying and integrating the aspects of ourselves of which we're ashamed (which Carl Jung called our ‘shadow selves’). I consider this to be an integral element of shamework for sure, but shadowwork stops at the integration stage. It asks us to do the essential work of allowing those parts of ourselves that we’re ashamed of to simply exist, to be seen.
When I engage in shamework, I ask clients to go one step further and release the shame entirely.
Why aren’t we all jumping at the idea of shedding our shame?
Because the conditioning is deep. We have been taught since our brains were still developing that there’s something shameful about our shadow sides. Maybe we’re ashamed of something sexual; of our dark sense of humor; of our jiggly bodies. Maybe we’re ashamed of our lineage; of the place we grew up; of our unpopular politics. Some of us carry deep shame about abuse we incurred or addictions that haunt us. About something we did once - or something we did not do. Maybe we were rejected or abandoned as children; we need to remember that our brain forms around these imprints.
Quite simply, the nature of shame is such that we believe we don’t deserve to release it. Because we are bad, we deserve to be ashamed.
Shamework is the process of understanding who taught us that we aren’t enough, when, and why. With shamework we look at how this toxic shame has infiltrated every aspect of our lives from how we behave to how we self-sabotage. We look the demon named Shame in the eye and we listen to its story about how we’re unlovable, selfish, or incomplete. We get very honest about the parts of ourselves which we don’t like and vow to do better and yet, we also permit ourselves to let go of the shame.
Simultaneously, we can not like something about ourselves, be not proud of something we did, or deeply regret our behavior and let go of the shame because shame doesn’t serve us. Shame is insidious. It’s a cycle by which we are told that our behavior or our character is somehow wrong so we feel shame so we behave in a way to expel our shame which hurts either ourselves or others so we feel shame so we behave in a way that expels our shame …and so the endless cycle goes.
The ways we process shame
In her book, 'Counselling Skills for Working with Shame', Christiane Sanderson outlines four ways by which we process shame - 1) we avoid it which looks like denial, deflection or numbing through substances, sex, or narcissism; 2) we withdraw by isolating ourselves from community which often looks like debilitating shyness, social anxiety, or silence; 3) we attack ourselves through self-harm, self-deprecation, perfectionism, or putting ourselves in situations where we are at risk; or 4) we attack others through rage, righteousness, or abuse.
When we do our shamework, we look at which of these coping mechanisms we’ve adopted, how it’s been sabotaging us and, importantly yet painfully, at how it profoundly hurts our loved ones. Above all, we acknowledge that our shame is not necessary to make amends if we’ve truly done harm, or that it has been taught to us by others.
In his seminal book on shame, 'Healing the Shame That Binds You', John Bradshaw said, ‘Shame begets shame.’ Meaning, when we feel shame, we shame others. Shame is taught to us by people who haven’t confronted or cleared their own shame. This isn’t fair; in fact, it’s cruel. The shame that binds us is never our own which is why in shamework we unlearn shame.
Using EFT to unlearn the shame
EFT is, I find, one of the most effective techniques to use in shamework because it allows us to rewire our neural programming thereby literally unlearning the shame that was never ours in the first place. The first acknowledgement of shame is usually the most difficult and often incites an abreaction. By using continuous tapping while a client processes the very existence of shame within them, I’ve found that abreactions can be halted or significantly mitigated.
By releasing our toxic shame we can start from scratch. We can’t ever find ourselves or learn what we truly want while we’re still shrouded in shame. This is why shamework is the most important work we’ll ever do. We aren’t actually ourselves until we drop the shame.
Written by Kristin Panasewicz who is an Accredited Certified EFT Practitioner based in London.