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Stop Shaming Your Shame

Are you interested in finding a way out of your self-defeating thoughts?

Photo by Julia Taubitz on Unsplash
Source: Photo by Julia Taubitz on Unsplash

Trauma and shame are inextricably tied together, so it makes sense to eradicate shame. But how do you do so? For most people, including therapists like myself, I had viewed shame as a scourge, to not only be eradicated but to be vilified, demonized, and shamed.

But in recent years, I have been unconsciously taking a softer approach, by embracing my shame. I wrote a poem on the need to redefine shame and our approach to it. Here are a few of the lines from the poem:

I used to hate my shame.

Run away from it, hide from it,

ignore it, deny it,

pretend it’s not there.

Now like a parent to a child, I embrace it.

The typical response to one’s shame is to excoriate it. In other words, to hate it with all of one’s being in the hopes that banishing the shame to the netherworld will increase our self-esteem and relieve us of trauma and/or addictions or compulsive tendencies. Others may prefer to live in denial and refuse to notice the shame in their lives. Regardless of which approach is taken, the consequences are the same: a continued cycle of internal turmoil, agony, and sense of defeatedness.

But strangely enough, the true way out of shame is not to shame that part of you further but to do what sounds intrinsically counterintuitive, to love it. Like the line in my poem, you must find a way to embrace it like a parent lovingly does so with a child. While I somehow understood this on an intellectual level from my poem, it wasn’t until more recently that I truly understood it on a gut level.

There’s a way of looking at life and our problems conceptualized by Dr. Richard Schwartz as Internal Family Systems. Under this framework, we learn to separate our True Self or “Wise Mind” popularized in Buddhist and other mindfulness practices from our “parts.” The key in trauma and addiction work especially is the premise that there are no bad parts. Not only are there no bad parts but for healing to occur, it’s essential for us to see how even the parts that currently cause destruction, pain, and torment (i.e. the shame part, the critical part, the addict part, the suicidal part, etc.) at one point may have been helpful or at the very least the intent of the part was genuine in its desire to be used for good. But over time, these parts internalized and misinterpreted social, cultural, religious, or familial messages, thus leading to destructive and negative consequences.

In my own life, I had once viewed “Asian shame” as a curse. But using this framework, I can see the shame I internalized was once meant for good as a young boy growing up as a first-generation Chinese-American immigrant. The shame was originally designed to do the opposite: help me remember my ancestry, to honor my heritage, and be proud of my ethnic background. But due to both societal (external) and family (internal) forces, I saw this shame as something “bad.” Societal messages that Asians are perpetual foreigners and “the other” combined with Asian cultural messages of honoring my family at any cost left me feeling inadequate. This is the shame that snowballed with the accumulation of racism, prejudice, and implicit cultural burdens for success, honor, and emotional stoicism.

For clients, the same premise holds true. Clients learn to first engage what they deem as their more “negative” parts (i.e. the angry part, the bulimic part, the depressed part, etc.) with non-judgementalism and an air of curiosity. Once this is achieved, then the psychic door opens to exploring the original function of these parts, how much they have been working overtime, and finding new and more productive roles of these parts. But once again, this process requires honoring, loving, affirming, and showing gratitude to these parts that have been beaten down over the years. Once love, mercy, and compassion are genuinely communicated between a person and their past vilified parts, true healing begins. No more shaming the shame. No more shaming the suicidal parts of you. No more shaming your eating disorder part. No more shaming the beauty within each part. Instead, embracing that shame can be transformative.


No Bad Parts: Healing Trauma and Restoring Wholeness with the Internal Family Systems Model