The Greatest Enemy to Your Happiness That You Never See Coming

Many of us try to rid ourselves of those things in our life that we feel weigh us down and prevent us from experiencing happiness (addictions, toxic relationships, depression, etc.). Sometimes we are able to do it. Other times it continues to plague us like something that we feel is apart of our selves that we can’t ever imagine our lives without. So what keeps us from getting what we truly desire and on to a path of peace and out of the constant suffering?……. Shame.

Fossum and Mason defined shame in their book, Facing Shame, as “an inner sense of being completely diminished or insufficient as a person. It is the self judging the self. A moment of shame may be humiliation so painful or an indignity so profound that one feels one has been robbed of her or his dignity or exposed as basically inadequate, bad, or worthy of rejection. A pervasive sense of shame is the ongoing premise that one is fundamentally bad, inadequate, effective, unworthy, or not fully bad as a human being.” Or in other words, we don’t take off our chains of unhappiness because we don’t believe we are capable or worthy as a person.

People often confuse shame with guilt. However, in reality, they are two very different things. Shame is a secondary emotion while guilt is a core emotion (see my blog on secondary vs. core emotions). Fossum and Mason also do well at defining guilt as “the developmentally more mature, though painful, feeling of regret one has about behavior that has violated a personal value. [It] does not reflect directly upon one’s identity nor diminish one’s sense of personal worth.” Guilt leads to change in behavior by feeling it and is an outward emotion (meaning it is about others and how we have affected/hurt them). Shame does not lead to change in behavior and experiencing it just leads to more shame and despair. Shame is an inward emotion (meaning it is self-focused and about ourselves). We use it to protect ourselves, but it just leads to more despair, isolation, and hiding.

There are only three ways that I have seen that helps us to get out of our shame. First, bring it out into the light. Talk to people about how you are feeling and what is happening with you. Talk to them about your fears and especially about the things you fear they will reject you for.

Second, building a connection with God. Prayer and a spiritual connection with our higher power helps remind us of our value and potential as humans.

Third, facing the shame. Notice when shame starts to creep up on you. Practice some self-compassion and mindfulness practices. Also, turn that shame into what your body needs to feel; the core emotion. This might be sadness and fear but is probably quite often…guilt. Let yourself feel how you might have affected yourself or the individuals around you by your actions. Whenever I catch myself going into shame I recognize it and start doing a guilt process. I think about other people and how they might have been affected by my actions. This gives me a sense of love and compassion for them and brings me out of the darkness and into a desire to do better and to change.

Getting yourself out of shame can be difficult to do. This is why it’s important to seek help from a therapist or coach to assist you in walking through these processes and out of the shame.

Why are some emotions more intense and painful than others?

There are numerous kinds of emotions and all emotions are important, but some emotions are deeper and more important than others. Our deepest and most painful emotions are called core emotions. They are core because they have two important features. First, they are the deepest and most basic emotions. Second, they are the only ones that can truly bring us “change” inside ourselves if we can honor them and feel them. There are five basic core emotions: Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger, and Guilt. All emotions are subsidiaries to these emotions. It’s important to remember that there can be many other types of emotions that we would consider core, but these five are just a way to categorize all of our core emotions. For example, Sadness can be used to describe core emotions such as hurt, despair, or grief. Unfortunately, the core emotion (Joy) that we seek most of the time is often covered by our other more painful emotions.

Furthermore, sometimes these emotions can be intense and painful. Because of this we go into less painful emotions. These are known as secondary or counter emotions. These emotions are still hard to bear, but they are less difficult to face and our bodies are very aware of this. These would not be considered core emotions because keeping ourselves in these emotions can often lead to feeling stuck or overwhelmed. In addition, there is always a more painful and necessary emotion that we need to uncover underneath these emotions that can lead to healing. Some common counter emotions are frustration, anxiety, shame, depression, anger, and resentment. Anger is a little tricky because it can be a core emotion, but it is a secondary emotion most of the time. The other core emotions can also be acting as secondary emotions covering up something more painful and intense. Sometimes these emotions can be too much to bear so we put up defenses. These are things like intellectualizing, addictions, distractions, laughter, etc. Once we build all of our baggage of emotions on top of one another, we can feel overwhelmed or, on the other side of the spectrum, numb. Once we get to this phase, we have taught our brains to continue to seek relief through our defenses. Then the cycle of misery continues…

So when this happens, how do we get back to the joy? In order to do this, we need to move past our defenses, through our counter emotions and into our core emotions. This can be difficult when we have spent years repressing them. Once we can access them, we need to allow ourselves to feel them and deal with them. We know we have done this properly when our painful core emotions start to dissipate and we begin to experience Joy (i.e. love, peace, forgiveness, compassion, etc.). However, this might be equivalent to Mount Everest unless we receive guidance from a therapist trained in emotional work.

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