Defining Shame and Factors That Cause It
Shame is a complex emotion that is difficult to define but incredibly powerful and pervasive to experience. It is a feeling of intense humiliation, embarrassment, or disgrace caused by a sense of failure or inadequacy.
Shame can arise from many different sources, including our own actions or those of others. It can also be caused by societal expectations and norms that we must live up to to be accepted. Additionally, our own thoughts and beliefs about ourselves can also evoke shame.
Regardless of its origin, experiencing shame can cause us to feel guilty, embarrassed, or inadequate, which can result in harmful self-talk and self-destructive actions.
This article will discuss why a relationship breakdown may elicit shame in single mothers and suggest coping methods. Recognising the causes of shame can help us better understand how to manage it and move forward.
A Quick Note on Guilt vs Shame
Shame and guilt are frequently used interchangeably but are two distinct feelings.
Shame is when you feel bad about your behaviour, while feeling guilty is when you feel bad about the outcomes of your actions. Although both emotions can motivate you to change, they can also cause negative feelings of despair and sadness if not handled correctly.
Shame is considered a more harmful feeling than guilt mainly because it emphasises the individual rather than the act. Therefore, this emotion can cause an individual to feel inadequate and have diminished self-worth.
On the other hand, guilt concentrates on the act itself. Consequently, it permits more valuable reactions, like making amends or improving behaviour.
Recognising the difference between shame and guilt is crucial to managing these emotions effectively. Understanding how they differ can help us better understand our reactions and those of others, allowing us to respond in a healthy way.
Single Mothers and Shame
When your marital relationship breaks down, it’s not uncommon for feelings of shame to follow. No matter the reason for the breakdown, whether you left or were left, it’s hard to shake the feeling of failure, inadequacy, and the sense of letting everyone down.
The perception of having ‘lost face’, the judgement of our peers and our outdated society is enough to cause such profound shame. So often, this is compounded by the dynamic shift of our mutual friendships.
Your little people are confused and lost. Looking up for guidance to adults who are hurting and lost themselves. Shame blooms from a lack of ability to protect or guide them. Holding ourselves responsible, self-degradation, and guilt are overwhelming, making navigating our emotions even harder.
It can be a difficult and emotional time, and it’s important to remember that you are not alone in these feelings. How you address them, however, will determine how you move forward in life.
The consequences of shame can be either helpful or unhelpful. Appropriate or adaptive shame can educate us and encourage us to improve ourselves. In contrast, destructive or maladaptive shame can hinder us and contribute to mental health issues like anxiety and depression.
Research shows that forgiving yourself can become easier when you feel guilty, but it can be challenging when you feel ashamed. A study by Griffin et al. (2015) found that self-forgiveness is essential to overcoming both adaptive and maladaptive shame. Here is a self-help workbook from the Single Mama Way Members resource vault that can help even shame-prone individuals achieve self-forgiveness.
The Consequences of Unresolved Shame
Unresolved shame can have a devastating impact on our lives. It can lead to feelings of worthlessness, guilt, and self-loathing that can last for years. It can also lead to depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues.
The long-term effects of unresolved shame are far-reaching and can be challenging to overcome. It can cause us to feel disconnected from our friends, family and children. Stop us from being able to form meaningful relationships. As a result, it is not unusual for many single mothers to retreat from social interactions or cease seeking them out.
In worst-case scenarios, they can return to a violent relationship. Or turn to destructive behaviours such as substance abuse or self-harm.
Recognising the consequences of unresolved shame is essential in order to take steps towards healing and recovery. By understanding the root causes of our shame, we can begin the process of resolving it and reclaiming our sense of self-worth.
It is a gradual process that requires patience and support. It involves learning to be kinder and more compassionate towards ourselves and recognizing that we are deserving of love, respect, and happiness. Single Mama Way can support you through this journey and set you up on a path of reclaiming your sense of self-worth.
Strategies for Overcoming & Building Self-Esteem
As thus far discussed, feelings of shame and guilt can seriously hinder one’s self-worth, causing a sense of undeserving and low self-esteem. Acknowledging and overcoming these emotions is essential to build a healthy sense of self-confidence and pride.
Several methods help individuals overcome their feelings of shame and guilt and develop positive self-esteem, including identifying the source of these feelings, understanding how they affect one’s life, adopting positive coping mechanisms, engaging in positive self-talk, and seeking support from others. (Read more about these methods in my upcoming article.)
These strategies can help individuals overcome negative emotions and build healthier self-worth. In addition, shame can be addressed through therapy, self-reflection, and self-compassion.
Single Mama Way is working on an evidence-based 8-step self-paced course, “Transform Your Pain into Power: A Reclaiming Your Life Masterclass for Single Mums.” It addresses challenges like shame, self-worth, loneliness, and overwhelm. Plus, the whole gamma of the emotional impact of a marital breakdown. Here you can access three brief but intense exercises from the course’s foundations.
Shame in Our Culture
The feeling of shame can be influenced by cultural and personal factors. Some societies view it as a form of social control, while others consider it an undesirable emotion. Factors like mistreatment, prejudice, and disgrace can intensify feelings of embarrassment.
Surrounding yourself with people who share these beliefs can reinforce and amplify your shame. Conversely, embracing vulnerability and acceptance can reduce feelings of shame and cultivate a positive self-image.
Harmful mindsets and actions must be addressed to create a society that values tolerance and empathy. It’s essential to acknowledge the presence of shame in yourself without judgment and seek a safe, supportive environment to express yourself freely.
One such environment is the Single Mama Way Tribe, our community of like-minded, caring and inspiring single mums. Sign up for the Single Mama Way Membership to learn more.
Moving Forward with Confidence
Ultimately, cultivating a sense of self-worth and self-acceptance is the key to overcoming shame. This can be achieved through practices various practices centred on mindfulness, self-care, and therapy. By embracing our imperfections and recognising our inherent value as human beings, we can move past shame and live more fulfilling lives.