Understanding and Healing From Shame 

Shame is one strong burden of an emotion that can have a significant impact on how you go about your life on a daily basis. Oftentimes, it limits the expression of your true feelings and desires. That emotion arises when one feels inadequate, flawed, or unworthy in the eyes of others or society. Feelings of shame can develop anytime, over what seemed like ‘minor incidents”, passing unthoughtful comments, feelings of judgments from others, and anytime from childhood to adulthood. For many, there may be a lot of inner child healing needed and that is connected to unresolved shame which has carried into our lives as adults. Cultural indoctrination has also played a huge part in how people feel and respond to shame. The idea of “Keeping up with the Joneses” or “Don’t air our family’s dirty laundry”, both that are pretty common practices, can easily create a sense of shame for an individual or family.

Shame is a debilitating emotion that can leave individuals feeling isolated and self-conscious. Overcoming shame takes time and effort, but it is possible not only through patience and self-compassion but also by understanding how you have developed the shame.

One of the tools I love using to further understand my/or a person’s relationship with shame is via a personality typing system called the Enneagrams, as well as questioning the need for comments and judgments that fuel shame in the first place. I was first introduced to enneagrams around 8 years ago by my late mentor. Enneagrams is super accurate, and while it doesn’t cover our whole blueprint, it has done wonders for me and many of my family, friends and clients. By understanding Enneagrams, it can also help us better identify when moments of shame are coming from our personality or a learned response to cultural indoctrination.

What are Enneagrams?

To put simply, the Enneagram is a personality typing system that classifies people into nine types, each with distinct desires, fears, and protection systems. Additionally, each person has two subtypes involved that addresses our changes in personality, how we “arrow” to another number naturally too. 

Understanding how shame appears in various personality types and how each type may react to shame is possible with the help of the Enneagram and from there we can really work on exploring how we can heal from the shame in an effective way that works best  for our individual personality. Here’s a simple breakdown of the nine Enneagram types and how shame often shows up:

Type 1 – The Perfectionists / The Reformers

When Type Ones believe they have failed or fallen short of their own high expectations, they easily feel ashamed. They are fixated on not being “good enough” or on what they see as imperfections. To be able to overcome the shame they may turn to others for approval and affirmation, and by always aiming for perfection.

Type 2 – The Helpers 

When Type Twos feel they have fallen short of others’ expectations or what others require of them, they can easily fall into shame. They could experience guilt for being selfish or undervaluing the ones they love. Two’s who are ashamed may resort to people-pleasing tactics in an effort to win approval and love.

Type 3s – The Achievers 

When Type Threes feel they have fallen short of their own or other people’s expectations, they can easily feel ashamed. They experience guilt for their lack of achievement or competence. Threes may look to outside approval and achievement to validate their value as a coping mechanism for shame. Type Threes have the deepest and most complex relationships with shame and typically have the hardest time facing and healing from shame. 

Type 4 – The Individualists

People of this type may feel essentially misunderstood or imperfect, and they already experience a strong sense of inner guilt. It’s possible that they feel inferior or unworthy. Fours may do deep self-examination in an effort to define their identity and discover their true selves in order to deal with shame.

Type 5 – The Investigators 

When Fives feel they haven’t learned enough or have erred in their fields of competence, they can easily feel ashamed. They could feel inferior to others in terms of intelligence or competence. Fives could isolate themselves and seek out information and seclusion.

Type 6 – The Loyalists 

When Sixes feel they have fallen short of others’ or their own standards of loyalty or reliability, they may feel ashamed. They could feel guilty for not being trustworthy or for not having enough security. Sixes may turn to dependable people or organizations for support and direction in order to deal with humiliation.

Type 7 – The Enthusiasts 

When Type Sevens feel that their quest for experiences and enjoyment has been curtailed or constrained, they may feel ashamed. They could experience guilt for not being sufficiently fulfilled or content. Sevens may constantly look for new experiences or distractions in order to deal with their embarrassment.

Type 8 – The Challengers

When Type Eights feel they have been exposed or helpless, they can easily feel ashamed. They might experience guilt for lacking sufficient strength or self-control. Eights may put on a tough façade and establish their control and power to cope with humiliation and keep from feeling weak.

Type 9 – The Peacemakers

When Type Nines feel they have sparked a dispute or upset the peace, they may feel ashamed. They could feel guilty for not being more amiable or calm. Type Nines may isolate themselves from confrontation and repress their own urge to keep the peace in order to deal with humiliation.

Although shame can manifest differently within each individual, these descriptions provide a general understanding of how shame may impact each Enneagram type. It could at least be a start to understand one’s inclination toward shame based on your personality type so you can begin understanding and working on overcoming shame in a compassionate way. If you’re interested in learning more about the Enneagrams I recommend materials by Beatrice Chestnut, Russ Hudson and the late Don Riso.

Fear of judgment and criticism

The dread of being judged and criticized by others is another way that shame can affect one’s ability to make decisions. People may fear criticism or disapproval, which makes them refrain from doing certain things or follow social norms in order to keep themselves from feeling ashamed. This dread of being judged can have a big influence on one’s daily decisions, limiting authenticity and personal progress.

People may experience feelings of guilt as a result of the unreasonable norms and expectations that our society frequently upholds. We can lessen the impact of shame on decision-making processes and promote a more tolerant and caring atmosphere by investigating and questioning these cultural standards.

Steps to overcome shame

  1. Recognize and acknowledge the shame. Getting a clearer picture of your shame by learning about how it began and how it affects your choices now (through emotional memories) will help you overcome the power of shame in your life.

Starting to observe your feelings in various contexts will help you identify your shame. When do you feel ashamed of yourself? And what is your response or change in feeling when you are ashamed?

  1. Stop comparing: Comparing yourself relentlessly against others will most likely bring you inferiority and shame. It will make it hard for you to see your own progress and achievements. Celebrate your uniqueness and individuality instead.
  1. Learn from your mistakes: Rather than dwelling on the shame a mistake is making you feel, use it as an opportunity for growth. As failure is a natural part of life, it is an opportunity to develop resilience and do better.
  1. Practice vulnerability: Don’t try to hide your feelings of shame. Instead, befriend your emotions and share them when you’re in the secure environment you’ve established. Being honest with your struggles and insecurities can create authentic connections and reduce shame.

Shame has a profound impact on daily decisions, as it can drive individuals to seek validation, conform to societal expectations, or fear judgment and criticism. While shame can help in the sense that we seek to do what we think is right, it can also have a negative effect.

It can lead to pleasing people constantly. This fixation may cloud the reason for which you make your decisions. Understanding these dynamics through the lens of Enneagrams can shed light on how different individuals respond to shame. It can help you see your inclinations and hopefully overcome shame. 

It is also crucial to question the need for comments and judgments that perpetuate shame and explore ways to create a more empathetic and supportive society and self. After all, you have the responsibility to love and build security around your true self and you are the only person in the world who can do that for yourself.