I think often about personal transformation and how challenging it is to recognize the growth in our lives.
I’ve found it necessary in my life to embrace and befriend the discomfort of what I refer to as, the personal root cause—that seemingly untouchable place that manifests as under the surface dissonance in day-to-day life.
This discord presents itself like an underlying current, or an electrical impulse mirroring a low-level surface anxiety that is always there. For many years, I’d engage anything to mask this current. In so doing, dysfunctional and addictive tendencies ensued.
Yet, in befriending this discomfort and unearthing its root cause, I have begun to more appreciate the chrysalis phase of transformation.
The hard truth I have found over time is the necessity to become intimate with the source of discomfort of our deepest wounding. Our ego constructs have developed over time to keep us as far away from feeling the root cause of our pain as possible. When not dealt with directly, we become more susceptible to being triggered by external circumstance that rub our pain. Eckhart Tolle describes this as the activation of the pain body, stating that “any negative emotion not fully faced and seen for what it is in the moment becomes a remnant of pain we carry with us throughout our lives.”
With enough awareness, we can develop the cognition to see the pain body for what it is: reactionary tendencies triggered by unresolved past emotions.
Yet, taken one step further, it is by engaging core shame that we consciously unearth the root cause of our deepest pain. Core shame is predicated upon absorbed childhood emotions, those that are induced from our caregivers and by relational trauma. The child, who is on the receiving end of a caregiver’s misgivings, neglect, or rage—feels worthless, frightened, and alone.
This child will believe that something is wrong with him or her and will thereby disconnect from her own humanity. As children, the idea of our caregivers being bad is overwhelming. To counteract this, we take on the caregivers’ shortcomings as our own. These unresolved, induced emotional experiences become the basis for under the radar trauma in adult life. When triggered, it often creates extreme responses to seemingly workable situations.
The experience of our own natural shame, on the other hand, makes us aware that we are fallible. Natural shame is triggered when we become aware that we fell short of who we want to be, and that is reflected back to us in the eyes of another. In a sense, it’s when we make a mistake, let someone down, and we’re called out for it. For many, this is experienced in passing, and the situation that caused the shame isn’t attributed to their overall sense of self-worth. For others, however, the shameful experience is all encompassing. It triggers a deep-seated belief that they are fundamentally flawed and not deserving of love. This is core shame.
As Pia Mellody, expert in relationships and addiction recovery explains, “When we experience our own natural shame, we recognize that someone has seen us as we really are—human and imperfect. Natural shame makes it possible to be relational, as we must consider the impact that our behavior has on other people. But shame as the legacy of abuse (carried shame) has to do with the devastating and crippling experience of induced shame, as it diminished our sense of inherent worth, making us feel less valued than others.”
Unresolved shame is like a self-fulfilling prophecy. It creates painful wounds that foster deep grooves of thinking and behavioral patterns in our psyche. When core shame is activated, a common response is to do anything we can to mask it. However, it does not go away. Instead, we continue to operate in life through the veiled lens of carried shame. Because of this, dysfunctional coping mechanisms, addictive tendencies, and codependent behaviors are likely to develop.
Essentially, this unresolved shame keeps us enslaved to false narratives that we have introjected from childhood, and it becomes exhausting to carry.
Unearthing the root cause of absorbed shame is essential in the process of healing. Yet, this unveiling doesn’t present itself on a linear path. There is a difference between having a surface understanding compared to embodying deep emotional integration.
A conceptual understanding I developed and unwittingly held onto for many years is that my entire ego structure was based upon receiving validation from others. This arose because of not being able to properly esteem and validate myself because of induced shame and absorbed emotions from childhood.
I noticed a big difference, however, when the surface realization of my validation needs started to become more deeply integrated. When I was able to unearth the root cause of this pain, the structure of my professional life and relationships that once were predicated upon maneuvering behavior to receive external validation, began to shift and change. The notion of acceptance and forgiveness, for myself and others, began to take on new form. I began to show up in my professional life and relationships with more self-worth and self-esteem.
For nearly my entire life, this ego construct had been subconsciously attenuating my drive. It was challenging to see how my underlying motives, those which I thought were pure, were predicated upon needing to control outside perceptions so that my unmet needs for attention as a child were met. In embracing the nature of my own absorbed childhood shame, it has given me the opportunity to re-nurture myself and my need for external validation in adult life.
Underlying this realization was a sense that my being, or existence was inherently flawed. The notion that I was not good enough or worth less than others was providing falsehood to nearly every aspect of my life and relationships. I had to unearth even more patterns of emotional neglect, bullying in the schools, and other misconduct perpetrated against me.
I kept telling myself that this was all normal, that I had it good, that so many had it worse, and so on. Yet that exasperated the situation even more as the needs of my inner child continued to go unheard. Our dysfunctional circumstances that we are raised with are nothing to turn a blind eye to or sweep under the rug.
When I gave myself the permission to feel without self-recriminating judgement, it began to shift the ground I walked upon.
In young adult life, I would subconsciously create scenarios with unsafe people where I’d find myself in compromised situations. Having extremely porous boundaries, I unwittingly allowed others to offend me. Underlying it all, I believed that others had more value than me and could thereby control me. I permitted others to tell me what I should or should not do, be, or become.
When I began to explore the root cause of my own core shame, I realized that many of the beliefs I held about myself, those that I had previously predicated my life upon, held no validity. In other words, the shame that I carried, which greatly affected my sense of worth in nearly all areas of my life, was actually not my own.
Because of this, I began to make new agreements. Doing so has given me agency. This has been essential in the process of healing.
Overall, it’s challenging to untangle the web of core shame. Yet by doing so, the truth of our reality becomes engaged more directly. This provides us the opportunity to live in direct relation with our life and others, rather than at the whims of our addictions and illusions.
The path of healing can be quite uncomfortable at times, yet it’s the commitment to the path in all its myriad forms that prerequisites unearthing the flower of transformation.