What Shame Does To You

by Mark Ivar Myhre on September 20, 2010

Here’s another excerpt from the new book I’m writing on shame.

In this chapter we’ll be looking at the specific damage shame does to you – or can do to you – if you suffer from it.  And keep in mind we’re talking about the negative shame and not the positive shame (remorse).

Remember, the positive shame is absolutely essential for healthy human development, while the negative shame can wound, cripple, or imprison you, and eventually it will kill you.

Quite a contrast, huh?

Anyway, here’s what the negative shame does:

1. It causes you to lose your freedoms and your powers.

Being human comes with certain perks (in case you hadn’t noticed!)  We’re all born with very unique gifts/powers/freedoms.  Such as –

(1) The ability to conceive and perceive; to be creative.
(2) The ability to think and evaluate.
(3) The ability to feel; to have passion and compassion.
(4) The ability to want and need and prefer and CHOOSE.
(5) The ability to imagine.
(6) The ability to give and to receive.
(7) The ability to heal.

But when you’re shamed – and you end up becoming riddled with shame – these gifts end up eroding away.  You lose these abilities.  It becomes hard to think.  It becomes difficult to feel your feelings.  You can’t give and you most certainly can’t receive.



With conception and perception – it’s hard to conceive of anything other than the way things are.  And perception?  When you look through shamed eyes, all you see is shame.

Thinking becomes harder.  I remember this so clearly in my own life, when I was growing up.  It was hard work to think!  I struggled.  I have so many memories of just not being able to figure things out.  After healing the shame, I literally felt ten times smarter.

And feeling… well, when you’re crippled with shame, you HAVE to shut off your feelings, just to survive.  Just like the people who dumped their shame on you had to shut off their feelings.

Your wants and needs become a further source of shame, so you end up hiding them.  It’s like I become too ashamed to admit that I want a loving relationship, or a lot of money, or even that I want to live a happy life.  I can look at other people with their desires, but I must deny my own desires. And God forbid anyone else might think I ever get horny!

Imagination also gets denied.  I don’t even WANT to imagine, if I suffer with shame, because it might reawaken the painful memories from my past.  So I shut down my imagining as much as I can.

When you’re imprisoned with shame, you also have very little to give.  And receive?  That becomes all but impossible.  Instead, you must take what you can get – survive as best you can.

And healing?  You can’t heal anything.  You can’t even heal yourself.  Plus, you end up constantly reminding yourself of that fact:  “I can’t change.  I can’t heal.  I’m stuck like this.  Probably forever.”

Fortunately, that’s not true.  But that’s how the thinking goes.  It’s easy to get stuck in a very limited mindset.  It’s easy to get pessimistic – even cynical.  And it’s so hard to truly think and feel for yourself.

Usually, we’ll get trapped in the same thoughts and feelings that our offenders have (or had).  In other words, I’ll think what my mom thought. I’ll feel what my dad felt.  Or instead, I’ll think and feel the exact opposite.  Or I’ll look for someone else to tell me what to think and feel.

“Just tell me the rules; I’ll follow them as best I can.”

2. Secondly, shame damages your brain chemistry and mechanics.

Specifically, shame damages the limbic brain, and can even cause it to shut down.

As you know, your limbic region could be considered the ’emotional center’ of your brain.  It’s also connected to the ‘thinking brain’ – the cerebral cortex, as well as to the reticular brain; the habituated, instinctive, survival portion of your brain.



When the limbic region is damaged, it no longer interacts with either the thinking or the reptilian brain.  If this happens, a person tends to go in one of two directions.  Either they start functioning in their reptilian brain and become a creature of habit (find something that works – and stick with it!) or else they go with the thinking and analyzing – always needing to figure things out, but never doing much with the information.

The pathways between the different brain regions break down, and the person can’t feel their own true feelings.  They become stuck in potentia or stuck in repetition.

Also, the brain releases neuropeptides and other endocrine hormones into the body.  Some of these, such as certain endorphins, are more powerful than morphine. Shame-based people have more of these endorphins in their circulatory system than non-shame-based people.

Essentially, shame-based people are always drugged by their own endorphins.  Eventually, it makes you depressed.  (Among other problems.)

It also sets up tape loops of behavior to recreate the shame.  Usually, this involves finding others to abuse and shame you as a grown-up.

3. Shame separates you from yourself.

You become stuck as either a ‘child’ or an ‘adolescent’ or as a ‘parent’ – but you can never be yourself.  You don’t really know who you are, since you have no sense of your own identity.

4.  Shame separates you from your spirituality.

You can go through the motions, and you can say the right things, but deep down inside, where it really counts, the true connection is lacking.

5. It keeps you from asking for help.

Because when it comes right down to it, you really don’t think you deserve it.  It would be ‘wrong’ to ask for help.  Besides, you can end up thinking nothing can help you anyway.

“I’ll do it myself.  I’ll go home alone and figure this out.”

(Boy, do I know that feeling!)

6. You end up feeling you must either fix the world or abandon it.

“I have to fix everyone – I have to work on everybody else’s problems but my own…”

Or, maybe you realize that’s impossible, and you end up retreating into addictions, obsessions, and/or fantasies.  And you end up abandoning the world, and usually you end up abandoning yourself as well.

7.  Eventually, you  become ‘shameless’.

And when this happens, you end up passing the shame onto others.  You become the offender.  Usually, it will be to your own children, if you have any.  Otherwise, you will find a way to shame those around you.  And it will always be those who are weaker in some way.

You may do the exact same things that were done to you, or, as in my case, you do the opposite:

“I would never abuse my daughter the way I was abused, so I’ll abandon her instead.  I’ll get away so I won’t hurt her.”

Either way, I still end up shaming her.

These are the dangers – this is the damage – that shame can do to you.  If you suffer from shame, some or all of these seven factors most likely affect you to some degree.  It just depends upon how severely you experienced shame.



The greater the intensity, the more these factors come into play.  And the intensity of the shame depends upon how much of it was dumped on you.  Fortunately, shame can be healed, as we’ll start looking at next time.  But the healing begins by understanding what shame does to people, and by understanding what shame has done to YOU.

As you look at your own life, see if any of these seven factors influence you, and to what degree.  Then you’ll be more prepared to start ending it.

{ 1 comment }

Larry Lewis September 21, 2010 at 6:35 pm

Thanks Mark, for you encouragement. i will look over this material tonight. Larry. PS. I am very glad that I found your information. I feel that your insisght will bve very helpful.

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