Shame and Self-Compassion

I have been exploring what professionals have written about shame, and I came across this paragraph from an article in Psychology Today (July, 2013) entitled, “How Compassion Can Heal Shame from Childhood,” by Beverly Engel, LMFT”:

Until a few years ago, the subject of self-compassion had never been formally studied. But recently there has been some breakthrough research done on self-compassion by researcher and social psychologist Kristin Neff from the University of Texas at Austin. Among other things, Neff discovered that self-compassion can act as an antidote to self-criticism—a major characteristic of those who experience intense shame. It was found that self-compassion is a powerful trigger for the release of oxytocin, the hormone that increases feelings of trust, calm, safety, generosity, and connectedness. Self-criticism, on the other hand, has a very different effect on our body. The amygdala, the oldest part of the brain, is designed to quickly detect threats in the environment. When we experience a threatening situation, the fight-or-flight response is triggered and the amygdala sends signals that increase blood pressure, adrenaline, and the hormone cortisol, mobilizing the strength and energy needed to confront or avoid the treat. Although this system was designed by evolution to deal with physical attacks, it is activated just as readily by emotional attacks—from ourselves and others. Over time increased cortisol levels lead to depression by depleting the various neurotransmitters involved in the ability to experience pleasure.

It is challenging to practice self-compassion when someone misunderstands and berates you, but awareness of who you are and who you’re not can only come from within. Your work is not to change others, but to know yourself. You might not be able to correct inaccurate notions that others have about you, but those notions don’t define you. That is why the first chapter in my book is “Who You Are and Who You’re Not.” No one but you can be an expert on what is inside you.

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