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Understanding the importance of decision-making
Identifying biases that affect decision-making
Analyzing the potential outcomes of a decision
Shame lies at the heart of many of the issues that bring people to therapy. The dictionary definition of shame is “a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior.” Shame is something that can be so ingrained in our lives from an early age that we don’t appreciate how powerfully it affects us in the present. It can become an essential part of our personality, completely hidden but guiding our lives, until we recognize it and start to talk about it.
Shame is different than guilt. Guilt is the feeling we get when we do something bad, something we know is wrong. It’s something we can fix by doing better next time. We can give ourselves another chance. Shame is much more diabolical. Shame makes us feel not that we did something bad, but that we are something bad. Instead of feeling like we did something wrong, we feel like we are something wrong.
Shame is like a little piece of cheese hidden deep down inside us in a crevice that is difficult to find and hard to reach.
Shame starts early.
Each experience of shame is like hiding little pieces of stinky cheese deep in the consciousness of our true selves. The cheese of shame is always there, slowly rotting, and smelling worse and worse over time. The irony is, even though this shame smell is so powerful, by the time we become adults we’re used to it.
But unconsciously, we’re completely aware of it. Deep down we know we stink, and we act like we know we stink, and we expect other people in our lives to smell this stink and wrinkle their noses at us. To think we are bad. To think we stink. For shame!
People around us, friends, family, and loved ones don’t smell the cheese anymore. In fact, we might do such a good job searching for the cheese, examining the cheese, talking about the cheese, we might emotionally clean the cheese smell out completely. But the truth is, the smell will always linger in our memories. We have lived with that cheese for so long, building walls around it, hiding from it, feeling bad about it, so the smell will always exist in our minds.
Times when we feel like we stink, and that other people can smell this, and that other people will know we stink and think less of us, that people in our lives that we love will think we are bad people because we smell. We explore the shameful feelings, and through that process we are able to find the metaphorical cheese and clean it up, to get rid of the stinky crumbs. We use lavender-scented cleaning products and a nice damp sponge and end up with a sparkling inner fridge.
But just because we’ve found the stinky cheese and cleaned it doesn’t mean we’re free of it. That smell was with us a long time, and the feelings it caused will always be with us. The goal of therapy is to become aware of these feelings and learn to accept them but not let them dictate our lives. We can’t get rid of shame, but we can understand it, accept it, and not let it define us. We can remind ourselves that even though the cheese is gone, the smell stays with us.
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