The feeling of shame and social anxiety can present very difficult psychological responses. So much so that they often repress our activities, causing us to evade relationships and circumstances that evoke them.
These experiences vary:
- You can feel ashamed for having said something you think was a stupid thing to say.
- You can have a full-fledged panic attack during some embarrassing situation.
- You can have a chronic feeling of shame that influences your decision making on a daily basis.
Most of us have encountered some form of social anxiety in our lives. Understanding what is happening within our bodies and minds and the shared origins of each of these reactions may relieve some of the painful symptoms.
Shame and social anxiety arise from a rift in positive connection with oneself. Rather than feeling that others are being normally supportive and accepting of us, we picture ourselves as the object of evaluation and circumstances. The feeling of being cut off from positive support right at the time when it is most required, and being restrained to critical judgment, imagined or real, creates a shame response.
Being extra self-conscious has its origins in making oneself the object of critical self-scrutiny. It is essential to realize that in both cases, the scrutinizing “other” is not real but instead a mental representation created by our minds. At these critical moments, we are cut off from any likelihood of self-affirmation, as well as an acceptance from others.
Misinterpretation or chronic disregard of emotional or social needs in our relationships produces shame in both adults and kids. Some of the physiological responses to a shame experience are tinting of the neck area and head, rapid breathing, heart rate increase, withdrawal, trembling, and dissociative mental states in which we are detached from our normal thought processes. Not being able to make everyday connections makes it harder for us to use our minds to assist us in a difficult situation.
Because the physical symptoms of the same reaction, or a panic attack can be so hard, a person can endure fear, anticipatory anxiety, or shame of having these symptoms.
The Shame Impact
In ordinary times, our mind records our activities by taking in what we know and forms a neutral narrative about what has occurred. If something embarrassing happens, we can think of something to say, then separate ourselves and choose that it might be wiser not to mesh in that situation in the future. We can make a conscious decision about what has happened and push ourselves to think about it. We can support ourselves by producing a confident self-narrative, reminding ourselves of our meaning and value.
One of the complexities of shame or being overly self-conscious is that our consciousness has to be divided into many parts. Our usual conscious thought processes are disrupted. We are now encountering ourselves on various levels of awareness, e.g., what we are observing, how we believe we are being judged, and how our minds react. When we are disassociated, we fail to create a positive narrative to support us through the experience. In fact, we have become a martyr of our constant negative self-narrative.
Knowing the dynamics of these responses can help us begin creating a more versed inner narrative about what is occurring, and in this way, we can help prevent the reactions of both acute self-consciousness and a shame reaction. With a more profound understanding of ourselves, our experiences in our lives and our relationships can be more satisfying.