Neurobiological Purpose of Shame

It’s hard to look at this picture and think of anything other than what a beautiful, innocent little girl.  Yet those who have experienced trauma, most often, cannot ever see or remember themselves accurately at this age. Especially once the dreaded Shame rears its ugly head.

In my own experience overcoming Shame is one of the hardest, if not hardest parts to healing authentically.  I have and will continue to research into this issue to help myself and others overcome it.

An interesting perspective on Shame is how it is a tool that is used FOR us, not against us.  That is perhaps was Allan Schore was referring to i.e.: the Neurobiological Purpose of Shame.

For purposes of this post, I am referring to Developmental Shame not Shock Trauma/Shame, but the same may well apply to a certain extent.

As young children, still in development & growth stages, for their own safety to respond quickly to a situation create an inhibitory clue. This is a neurobiological regulator that helps children inhibit their behaviour, which in essence can function as a protection mechanism.  As children we are usually high energy and impulsive, but when this shame piece shows up, it instantly decreases excitement and impulsivity and causes a freeze, which stops or prevents the forbidden action.

In “safe” environments, this response can be repaired by a caring parent and actually increase tolerance.

In an “unsafe” environment, shame must be OVER-used to regular the fight/flight reactions and other behaviour that is unacceptable or unsafe in the environment.  This “on” switch in this type of environment actually decreases resiliency.

So if we look at shame in this context, it is actually a pretty powerful tool that reduces self-exposure or self-exploration that can put us at risk.

If we take it a step further, shame in this context also helps to drive the animal defence of submission i.e.: averting our gaze, bowing our heads, softening our spines etc.,

This shame related avoidance is an adaptive tool that helps us instinctually, automatically and unconsciously, which increases our ability to handle the situation.  This increases our survival by always readying us in the present moment for what comes next, based on the past experiences.

There are absolutely costs associated with this behaviour, but for purposes of this post, showing that there is a neurobiological purpose for shame, perhaps makes it less “shameful” for us to feel for ourselves.

In this context, Shame is what kept us alive and is  a positive reflection of who we are and how we coped. How is that for a shift in perception? How does that feel now, towards the shame you carry?  Try to stay curious and see what happens.



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