Our Unconscious Childhood Shame-Core

I was asked to write a blog entry explaining the process whereby many of us grow up into adulthood carrying within us, buried deeply within the unconscious, a core of childhood shame.

Buried Unconscious Shame
Buried unconscious shame is like having dark storm clouds hanging over our soul.

When we are born, we are born ‘whole.’ We are an undifferentiated bundle of human potential, carrying within us the seeds of an infinite number of possibilities for development, growth and maturation. The problem is that many of these possibilities for development that are latent within us do not ‘fit in’ with the circumstances we are born into – our family, our nationality, our religious community, our ethnic group, etc. From the moment we are born, we are socialized to fit into the pre-existing social structure that surrounds us. We are forced to repress any and all aspects of ourselves that do not fit into the social structures that groom us for a place in society.

Those parts of us that do not fit with those preexisting social structures are shamed – sometimes directly, sometimes indirectly. We quickly learn to repress those parts of us that do not fit into the surrounding social structures. And those parts of ourselves that we repress are laden with shame, which, by the time we become adults, is long-buried, and unconscious, deep within our psyches.

An example: a client of mine was born with strong sensitive, intellectual, artistic tendencies/capabilities. His parents were both members of the US Marine Corps, and they shamed him for this, labeling him as weak, sissified, and not sufficiently masculine and macho – the values and orientation of the Marine Corp. As a result, he grew up with deeply internalized feelings of shame and hatred for his sensitivity, creativity and artistic abilities. He also spent much of his adult life in a futile effort to emulate and please his parents by trying very, very hard to be a hard, tough, macho man. This effort practically killed him and fueled his addiction. It was only when he was in his fifties that he did the deep interior work necessary to ‘excavate’ these deeply buried feelings of shame and work through them and begin to embrace his sensitive, creative, artistic side.

I could give many other examples: the liberal-minded child who is born into a conservative social structure of family, church and state; the open-minded child born into a rigidly dogmatic orthodox religion; the homosexual child born into a parental structure that is prejudiced against gays; I could go on for pages. You can probably come up with many of your own.

The point is that many of us grow up with a buried, unconscious core of childhood shame. This leaves us vulnerable to being shamed by other, shaming individuals with an agenda. It also leaves us with an unconscious core of low self-esteem, and potentially self-hatred. It is only by “doing the work” of excavating this unconscious shame-core that allows us to grow, finally, into wholeness and psychological health, and into a balanced, healthy core of compassion, acceptance and ultimately love of self. It is by facing, feeling, and letting go of our deeply buried core of shame that we become liberated and no longer vulnerable to shaming by others.

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