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The Emotional Freedom WorkbookTake Control of Your Life and Experience Emotional Strength
By Stephen Arterburn Connie Neal
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 1997 Stephen Arterburn and Connie Neal
All right reserved.
Chapter OneHealthy and Unhealthy Shame
The lifestyle of good people is like sunlight at dawn that keeps getting brighter until broad daylight.—Proverbs 4:18 CEV
Janice walked into the church, feeling as if everyone was looking at her. Just days before she had been romantically involved with one of the assistant pastors of the church—behind his wife's back. Although she had told herself, It can't be wrong if it feels so right, a sense of shame overwhelmed her as she walked into the sanctuary. She wanted to think her feelings were based on the judgmental attitudes of others, but deep inside she knew better: no one else was even aware of her behavior.
Kathleen sat in the PTA meeting longing to speak up, but afraid to open her mouth. She and her three children had talked openly in their home about a major drug abuse problem at the high school campus, and she could tell by listening that the other parents either weren't aware of the problem or didn't want to acknowledge it. But Kathleen was embarrassed by the fact that she was a stay-at-home mom, and that the mothers who were doing all the talking were professional women with college degrees and high-paying jobs. In fact, one was a well-known adolescent psychologist. They'll never listen to me anyway, Kathleen told herself. They'll just think I'm a troublemaker if I tell them what I've heard.
There are two kinds of shame: healthy shame and unhealthy shame. Unhealthy shame, like Kathleen's, is a painful and overwhelming feeling that drives you away from others and eventually causes you to turn against yourself.
Healthy shame, like Janice's, is a personal moral and emotional smoke detector. Just as a smoke detector can forewarn you of the danger of fire that could destroy your home if left to burn unabated, healthy shame signals whenever you are about to enter a potentially dangerous personal situation. As long as you heed the warning given by healthy shame, avoiding behavior and situations that are shameful, you will benefit from your internal security system.
Here is a comparison between healthy shame and unhealthy shame. In each section rate yourself on a scale of 1 to 10 (1 means not descriptive of you at any time; 10 means always descriptive of you).
Healthy Shame Rating
1. You see your behavior as separate from "who you are." You may do something bad, but you don't take that as evidence that you are essentially a bad person (although you realize that every person is flawed and imperfect). __________
2. You separate bad experiences from "who you are." Something bad may happen to you or you may be treated abusively, but you don't assume that you deserve such treatment. __________
3. You see normal lapses, errors, and failures as part of being human. They may act as catalysts, prompting you to make changes toward a more positive direction in life, but they do not overwhelm you. __________
4. You see avoidance of shame-producing behavior as a way to protect yourself from pain and destruction. __________
5. You see "breaking the rules"—violation of your boundaries—as a problem that needs to be corrected to reduce the discomfort of the shame you experience. __________
6. You trust that shame is a temporary feeling of discomfort, which will dissipate when you move away from "breaking the rules." __________
7. You see your life as valuable, and shame as something built into your being to protect the sanctity of your life. __________
8. You try to live within the boundaries of socially acceptable behavior and take steps to fit in with society. You act in ways that protect your privacy, and you practice discretion in your relationships. __________
Add your ratings. If your total equals
39 or under: You need to give more attention to the subject of developing healthy shame. Please complete this part of the workbook, and if you continue to struggle with these issues, call 1-800-NEW-LIFE for further help.
40 or over: You're generally healthy, but you may need to work on specific areas where you have difficulties.
Unhealthy Shame Rating
1. You see wrong behavior or failings as a reflection of "who you are"—your true identity. When you do something bad or make a mistake, you see that as evidence that you are flawed. __________
2. You accept part of the blame when others violate you. You see yourself as someone who deserves to be abused or treated poorly. __________
3. You see normal lapses, errors, and failures as the revelation of your true nature, which is flawed, rather than as a part of being human. You may feel overwhelmed when you experience such a lapse because you think it reveals that something is terribly wrong with you. __________
4. You see avoidance of shame-producing behavior or lifestyle as futile since you believe the behavior or lifestyle is the natural result of being the kind of person you consider yourself to be. __________
5. You regard trying to change your life for the better as living a lie or being hypocritical. You believe your steps in a positive direction are phony, and you negate them instead of viewing them as evidence that you can change. __________
6. Whenever you experience a normal human failing, make an honest mistake, suffer a disappointment, violate your moral standards, or have your boundaries violated by others, it may trigger a downward spiral of depression or addictive behavior. __________
7. You may appear to others to be utterly shameless in some or all areas of your life. When you shut down the influence of healthy shame, you lose the strength of your boundaries. You may eventually be worn down to the point that you give in to your overwhelming shame and act out in ways that show no sense of healthy shame and no awareness of legitimate moral guilt. __________ Total: __________
Add your ratings. If your total equals
35 or over: You are dealing with a significant degree of unhealthy shame.
34 or under: You are probably generally healthy. Everyone experiences shame to some degree, so if your score is 34 or under, your shame is probably manageable.
Write a description of how healthy shame operates in your life at this time. Also note any specific experiences that might have violated your healthy shame throughout your life, causing a breakdown of your barriers or a shutoff of the influence of healthy shame. ___________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________________
Write a description of how unhealthy shame operates in your life at this time. Note specific areas where you feel inferior to others because of a sense of shame that makes you fear something is wrong with you. ______________________________ _______________________________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________________
Identifying the Symptoms of Shame
In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me lay an invincible summer.—Albert Camus
Unhealthy shame is an internal matter. People may look at you and never dream that your life is limited by shameful feelings. You may seem to be far different from the way you see yourself since shame causes you to cover up the real you. There are specific symptoms of unhealthy shame. Check the following symptoms that are evident in your life. Put a star beside the ones that are most typical of you.
__ 1. You simply can't bring yourself to do things, go places, or be around people because you feel intimidated.
__ 2. You experience recurrent bouts of depression.
__ 3. You are in self-isolation: physically or emotionally distancing yourself from others, particularly those you care about most.
__ 4. You pretend to be other than you are.
__ 5. You rely on habits or substances to medicate inner pain and self-loathing.
__ 6. You exaggerate and/or lie about yourself, your accomplishments, and your lifestyle; you brag and name-drop.
__ 7. Your public identity and your private self are markedly different.
__ 8. You have had suicidal thoughts.
__ 9. You assume the blame when someone treats you poorly or hurts you.
__ 10. You make excuses for people who abuse you or treat you with disrespect.
__ 11. You are unable to accept yourself as only human; instead, you see yourself as subhuman or superhuman. You are unable to accept both the good and the bad within you; rather, you cling to a view of yourself that is all bad or all good, or you alternate between the two.
__ 12. You keep secrets about yourself, and you feel bound to carry them with you to the grave.
__ 13. You keep a shameful part of your life separate from the rest of your life, even in your own mind, so that your behavior in one area is markedly different from the rest of your life (this split-off part may violate your values and eventually threaten your well-being).
__ 14. You deny the nature and severity of your addictions.
__ 15. You lose yourself in the needs of others: busying yourself taking care of others; rescuing; trying to control, fix, or change them; and trying to solve their problems while neglecting your life.
__ 16. You feel driven to achieve, overachieve, and excel to feel okay about yourself; you try to prove your worth by what you do.
__ 17. You focus on the flaws and failings of others; being judgmental and critical draws attention away from you or consoles you that you aren't as bad as the object of your criticism.
__ 18. You defy societal norms—dressing, acting, and relating in ways that are socially unacceptable. If you defy the rules of society, you can console yourself that any rejection is the rejection of your appearance or manners, and you can distance yourself from personal rejection.
__ 19. You associate primarily with people on an extreme end of the social ladder. (Some people associate with those they view as losers because that is the only group they feel they belong with and can be accepted by. Others associate only with people of status because they derive their sense of self-worth from being accepted by those they believe to be above them.)
__ 20. You break off relationships with people you care about deeply before they have a chance to know the real you and reject you.
__ 21. You fear expressing your honest opinions and feelings; you adapt your opinions to try to match those expressed by people you are associating with at the time.
__ 22. You are lonely.
__ 23. You fear being found out as a phony.
__ 24. You are a perfectionist, trying to make up for who you are by doing everything perfectly.
__ 25. You fear failure, which keeps you from trying new ventures.
__ 26. You are unable to ask for help because you feel that admitting need exposes your area of inadequacy.
__ 27. You resist setting personal goals in the areas where you have a sense of shame.
Review the items you checked as symptoms of shame in your life. Write the three that are most prevalent. Describe specific incidents where these three symptoms of shame were manifested recently.
Write your thoughts about your symptoms of shame. How do you feel when you see the effects of shame on your life? ________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________________
Shame and Addictions
You will not die from sobriety.—Anonymous
Shame and addictions feed on each other. You cannot gain freedom from shame while you are actively medicating the pain of life by relying on addictive-compulsive behavior. You must deal with both issues at the same time.
The addictive process involves using a mood-altering substance or experience to temporarily escape the pain of life. And it isn't always a major, life-threatening addiction to substances such as drugs or alcohol. It can be far more subtle—sometimes even a good thing carried to the extreme.
Excerpted from The Emotional Freedom Workbook by Stephen Arterburn Connie Neal Copyright © 1997 by Stephen Arterburn and Connie Neal. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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