We all know the feeling. It’s utter yuck! Shame! I know that Brené Brown talks about it and has helped us to look at our shame and vulnerability. And yes, that has been a huge shift for me over the last few years! I’ve talked about being a bit of a fan girl of Brené Brown here and here.
And I didn’t even realize there was more to learn from shame. But i just attended an EMDR advanced training and learned something I found aha-mazing. (Is that a word, it should be, right?) Shame is a defense mechanism. We will come back to that, but first…
We all have defense mechanisms. It’s our brain’s way of dealing with difficult emotions that come up. You know when talking about something in your life stirs up emotions….and maybe even we get that lump in our throat and our eyes well up with tears? Our brain’s develop ways to make those experiences less uncomfortable. Enter defense mechanisms. They are usually quite automatic and with little awareness that they are happening.
Some common defenses include avoidance, intellectualization, and projection. I feel like avoidance will be self-explanatory. It can take many forms….change the subject, answering a question with a question, etcetera. Intellectualization is the thinking and often overthinking of something instead of allowing the feelings to surface. And then projection is when we put our thoughts, feelings, and judgments on someone else that deep down we think or feel about ourselves.
Now….back to shame as a defense mechanism. Hang with me here. It seems illogical that feeling shame would be a defense. I mean, if you change the subject….that doesn’t feel bad for the most part. Or intellectualizing doesn’t feel bad. Shame feels bad, though. Right?
BUT….it gives us a twisted sense of control. If we feel shame about a situation, maybe someone said or did something that hurt us emotionally or otherwise…. If we give ourselves the message that we somehow deserve that action toward us, we have the power back. “I need to work extra hard to not be bad and nobody will say or do anything mean.” That is easier to accept than that someone or life would just hurt us, undeserving and out of nowhere.
I may be oversimplifying. And…I don’t know that it is always a defense. I do think it is worth looking at, gently. Notice when you feel shame and see if you can see what would it be like without the shame? If the shame wasn’t there, what would be in its place? Maybe overwhelming pain, hurt, sadness…. Maybe the feelings that surface are the feelings that need to arise. Keep in mind that defenses have a good reason for being there. Proceed with kindness and self-compassion.
[…] some about that before? Sometimes you hit a point in therapy that your brain resists the work. Last week we talked about defense mechanisms, mostly focusing on shame, but now I want to talk more about the defense of avoidance/resistance. It would be one thing if […]