Resolving Shame

There are basically three ways that cultures maintain and enforce their group values. One is overt coercion, the threat or use of physical force, incarceration, punishment, or death to limit those who might transgress the values of a group of people. Knowledge of the rules, and the resulting punishment, keep people behaving in accordance with the group’s values. The other two kinds of coercion are a bit less direct.
       Another way is to teach the group values to members so thoroughly that the person feels guilt when they transgress their own values. Someone can feel guilty about something they did, even if no one else knows about it, because the culture’s values are internalized, a part of themselves. Many churches, and some societies use guilt as a primary method of social control.
       Yet another way is shame, suffering the public disapproval of others when someone transgresses cultural values. Shame is often called “the secret emotion,” because most people who are ashamed are also ashamed of feeling ashamed, so they seldom discuss it with others, or bring it up as a problem to be solved. In cultures in which shame is the principal method of social control, the ultimate punishment is to be separated and banished from the group. In the past, in most tribal cultures, this was usually equivalent to death, since other neighboring tribes were unlikely to accept someone who was banished, and survival alone was extremely difficult or impossible.
       Many people do not understand this crucial difference between guilt and shame. Shame is an experience of not meeting the values of other people, whereas guilt is an experience of not meeting your own values. Guilt may be private or public, but shame is always public. Knowing this essential distinction indicates how we need to work with guilt and shame in somewhat different ways, and we first wrote about this in 1989. (Heart of the Mind, Chapter 14) )
       There is another useful distinction between shame about a behavior, and shame about the self. Shame about a behavior is less harmful, because the person can usually decide to change the behavior to conform to the group’s values. Shame about the entire person is much more difficult, because how can a person change who they are? “You should be ashamed of what you did,” can be remedied, but “You should be ashamed of yourself” is a trap that has only one escape–to comment on the language trap that the shamer has created for them both. However, most people who are shamed by others are not likely to be experts in communication, so this escape is not available to them.
       The transcribed demonstration below is presented verbatim, except for deleting repetitions, some “OKs,” and a few other very small changes in order to make it more readable. The session was videotaped during an NLP Master Practitioner training in 1990 (Resolving Shame DVD demonstration).

Shame Pattern Demonstration
        Steve: First, I presume you already have in your mind something that causes you to feel shame.
       Woman: Yes, it’s ah–
       Steve: And don’t tell them any content. They will get nosy and their brains will get derailed, and they won’t notice we’re doing anything. OK, you got one? (Uhhuh.) Is this a specific time or is it a period of time?
       Woman: Period of time.
       Steve: OK. How about just taking a–because we will apply it to the whole period of time, I guarantee you, before we are done. But for right now, how about thinking about a specific incident. It will make it easier for us to explore what the situation is, OK? (Uhhuh.) Good. Now, put that one on a shelf for a minute, and think of some other situation in which you violated someone else’s standards, or you didn’t meet someone else’s standards, but for whatever reasons, you didn’t feel shame. (OK.) You got one? (Umhm.)
       Steve: How come you didn’t feel shame there?
       Woman: Um, because I was . . . I was doing what I wanted to do.
       Steve: OK. Well, how come you did feel shame in the other one?
       Woman: Because it seemed like it had more to do with my personage, with myself.
       Steve: OK. This is an important distinction, the distinction between whether a certain situation reflects on your self, your self-concept, your being, or whether it reflects only on your behavior. And this is something that Leslie Cameron-Bandler was doing–it seems like a million years ago!– making the distinction between self and behavior. And it’s a very nice first step in general, when you are doing a lot of work, to make the distinction that if someone insults you, or they say you did wrong or something like that, that they are only commenting on your behavior. It makes it a lot easier to deal with. However, when you are young and you are in a family of perhaps less than total resources, it is hard to know that–but we can go back and fix it. (Good.) Now, if you compare those two experiences, the one of shame, and the one of . . . we’ll just say “not shame,” where again you knew you were not meeting someone’s standards in some way, but you didn’t experience shame. What are the differences–submodality differences in particular?
       Woman: OK. Well, the shame one’s over here. (She gestures a little to her left, hands about two feet apart.) And it’s round, oval. It’s–the brightness is a little less than normal brightness.
       Steve: OK, it’s a little dim.
       Woman: Umhm. It’s 3-D.
       Steve: Which way is it oval, by the way? You said it was–
       Woman: Like this.
       Steve: And then you’re tilting a little bit. (Her right hand is about six inches higher than her left.)
       Woman: Umhm.
       Steve: Kind of like that?
       Woman: Yeah, except the people in it are standing up, but the part of it that I see is like this.
       Steve: OK. So it’s kind of like that. OK. And so there are people in there?
       Woman: Umhm. I’m one of the people.
       Steve: You’re one of the people, so you see yourself in this. (Umhm.) So it’s dissociated. That’s a wise move, by the way. Just for a moment, just for their edification, what would happen if you stepped in? . . .
       Woman: (shaking her head emphatically) I couldn’t!
       Steve: No way! OK, that’s fine, that’s enough. You understand the difference? Now, let’s think about the other one for a moment. So it’s on the other side?
       Woman: OK, it’s . . . yes. Um–
       Steve: Tell me about that one.
       Woman: It’s more to the right, over here. I guess it’s square (she gestures in a rectangular shape, about 2’ wide and 8” high), although it’s three dimensional, and . . . the brightness is normal. It’s further back, and I’m in and out. I mean, I–
       Steve: OK, so you step in or not.
       Woman: Right. There’s also . . . the auditory part is . . . the tones are real pleasant over here. And on the shame one it’s more of a–what I would call a cackling.
       Steve: Cackling. Oooh, Good.
       Woman: There’s words, but there’s a kind of a cackling to the tone– tonality.
       Steve: OK. So, let’s see, now you spoke of this . . . the not shame as being 3-D. Is the other flat? Or is it 3-D, too?
       Woman: No, they are both 3-D.
       Steve: OK, they are both 3-D, so we won’t pay attention to that, since they are both the same. Any other differences between– Oh, this one (not shame) is farther away, right?
       Woman: Yes, it is.
       Steve: How far away is this?
       Woman: It’s about like out where Keith is. That’s my normal–
       Steve: OK, twenty-thirty feet?
       Woman: Yeah.
       Steve: Say twenty-five feet.
       Woman: Yeah. And this one is like more, like about eight feet.
       Steve: OK. Any other differences you notice between those?
       Woman: In this one (not shame) I have–it’s interesting. I have a sensation but it’s not midline, it’s just to the right of midline, a pleasant sensation is the way I would describe it.
       Steve: OK. I’ll just code this by “right,” here, so positive feeling, right.
(Umhm, yeah.) Which emergency responders would call “right lower quadrant.” (she laughs) Any other differences between the two?
       Woman: This one (shame) would be really unpleasant if I were to step into it (nervous laughter)
       Steve: Yes, I understand.
       Woman: But I’m not going to, there’s an off balance, a spinning sensation.
       Steve: If you were to step into this for a moment, you would get off balance and spinning. (Umhm.) OK. But you don’t get–over here, if you step into it, you get the nice warm sensation. (Right.) OK. Now, I want to ask you something else. Well, first, any other submodality differences you notice between them? (No.) Well, OK, that’s plenty. Um, there are people in both of these? (Umhm.) OK. I want you to give me . . . these are actually content– Well, let me ask specifically. As you see yourself in this one, is there any difference in the size, between you and the other people?
       Woman: No. There’s–
       Steve: Because you are real size and they are real size, or they are proportional, or whatever?
       Woman: Well, they are proportional to each other, but they are bigger than the background. I just noticed that.
       Steve: They are bigger than the background. (Umhm.) So, like unrealistically bigger? Or . . . just more prominent?
       Woman: Umm. Maybe it’s more prominent, is what it is.
       Steve: You notice them a lot. (Yeah, umhm.) Now, where are they looking? . . .
       Woman: Well, it’s hard for me to get that, because the content of it was literally a swinging around.
       Steve: OK. So you were swinging around in the picture itself? (Yeah, umhm.) Like on a swing or something like that?
       Woman: (laughing) No, somebody picking me up.
       Steve: Somebody picking you up. (Yeah.) And swinging you around. And that was not pleasant, right? (No.) Now over here, how many other people, roughly, over here? (Um, a couple.) Just a couple? (Yeah.) And over here? (Two.) OK, two in both.
Let me just explain what I am fishing for a little bit. Sometimes in the experience of shame there is some kind of distortion. Sometimes the other people are larger. Sometimes the person–yourself in this case–sometimes it’s not real in some way. The person is deformed, or without clothes, or in some way there is a representation of not being fully yourself. (Umhm.)
Man: If you are a kid and they are bigger–
       Steve: Yeah, well, I mean bigger proportionally. Unrealistically bigger. Sometimes, you know, you feel very small and there’s these giants around you, and although kids could experience that just with the normal size, often there’s a distortion of this nature. So I gather there aren’t any of these in that? (No.) Fine, good. Now, just as an aside, if there were distortions like that, right now I would change those before I did anything else.
Just as in the grief pattern, if someone sees the lost person in a coffin, you make it into the live person, the person that they miss, the person that they loved and cared for, not the body in the coffin. You would make a specific content change in the picture at this point if that were the case.
Man: So those are not only content distortions, but also size distortions? What are you talking about?
       Steve: I’m talking about that as a content distortion, because it’s specific to content. You can think of size as a submodality. If the whole picture changes, I call it a submodality change. Maybe there’s a middle ground, I don’t know what you’d call it. But anyway, if there was a big/little distortion, I would have them change that at this point.
Man: And also a looking distortion?
       Steve: Yeah. Often the person over here, everyone is looking at them and laughing, or criticizing, or doing whatever they are doing. And typically in the resource one, it’s just like normal, you know, where people are looking at each other, or at the wall, or at whatever is going on. OK?
Man: If you were going to deal with that content distortion, what would you do with it?
       Steve: Just say, “Make yourself bigger,” or “Make them smaller.” Make yourself bigger, make the other people smaller, until they are appropriate, realistic. You just tell them to do it. I’ve never had any problem with it yet. Just tell them to do it and they go, “Yes, sir!” and they go ahead and do it.
       Woman: Just, you know, they were– I guess they were bigger because I did that when you just said that, and it opened out the frame (laughs) enough to where it’s not nearly as panicky as it was.
       Steve: OK, so they were probably a little bigger. (Yeah.) So, here’s a nice example. I didn’t even tell her to do it, and she did it. You said it opened out the frame. Did it actually make it larger?
       Woman: Yeah, and it–
       Steve: And is it less impactful?
       Woman: Yes, because it made it square all of a sudden.
       Steve: It made it square?
       Woman: It’s not oval anymore.
       Steve: OK. Now, the next thing we want to do is map across, and usually the easiest thing to do is to change location. So take this picture and move it out to that location (on the right), and find out what else changes at the same time. It’s already got a square frame over here, right? And as it goes over there, does it brighten up a little?
       Woman: OK. The . . . ah . . . yeah. It brightens up, and all of a sudden the sound goes from cackling to more like a–
       Steve: –normal sound?
       Woman: Yeah, or like a merry-go-round. You know, it’s . . . like now it’s fun.
       Steve: Now it’s fun. (Yeah.) OK. That’s a difference, huh?
       Woman: (laughs) Yes!
       Steve: OK, do you see it out there, about where Keith was? He’s gone now.
       Woman: Umhm. Kind of behind Nelson and Clinton.
       Steve: Behind Nelson. OK, great. (Yeah.) And you hear the sound changed already. And now what happens if you were to step into it? Briefly. . . . (She moves her head in a small circle.)
       Steve: Boy, it sure turns your head around, doesn’t it? (Yeah.) Now come back out (laughter) or you’ll get dizzy. (to the group) Did you see her head going around?
       Woman: It just . . . um . . . it doesn’t . . . you know, it’s . . . I could get dizzy but it doesn’t have the scary feeling to it, the off balance feeling and out of control feeling.
       Steve: How about shame?
       Woman: Um, well the same comments are being said that were shaming, but it’s like I’m not reacting as though–
       Steve: (to the group) Isn’t that fairly obvious, just looking at her? She’s kind of smiling and she’s talking about this like, “No big deal.”
       Woman: You know, it’s kind of like I could say, “No, up yours,” you know.
       Steve: There you go. OK. That looks real good to me. Now, at this point I want you to do something else. Now the shame is gone, right? (Umhm.) Now, keeping that picture over there, and I don’t imagine you want to ever move it back, right? (No!) OK. Just keep it over there and now I want you to consider what was the standard that was not met in that situation.
       Woman: Um, it had . . . OK. It had . . . do you want the
       Steve: If you don’t mind.
       Woman: No. It just had to do with body image.
       Steve: Body image. OK. Now, is that a standard that you want to meet? Is that a standard that you want to have for yourself?
       Woman: It is . . . OK, how can I say this? . . . I do, but not with that person’s criteria?
       Steve: Fine. So you want to have your own criteria for body image. (Umhm.) So in terms of this specific situation, you are essentially saying their
standards, given their criteria, are not something you want to have for yourself, is that correct? (Right.) Great. Now, at this point, take a moment to consider what are your standards and criteria. You may have thought of this already, and it may be just a matter of accessing it and just briefly thinking about it. What standards do you want to meet? (OK) Given that this happened in childhood, it’s possible that this may never occur again but just in case–
       Woman: This one was about like as a teenager.
       Steve: Teenager. (Yeah.) OK, now given that that happened so long ago, it may be that nothing like this will ever happen again. But if it were to happen again, or anything similar to it, we would want you to be prepared. Given that those other people have this different standard than you have, how do you want to respond to them? Is it enough to just know that you have a different set of standards, and that you can now say, “Up yours,” or something like that inside–or outside if you want to? But whatever response you want to have in that situation, just think about that and think about that if that should ever happen again, that in this situation that’s what you would be satisfied doing. (OK.) OK. And that looks pretty good. Any parts object to any–
       Woman: No!
       Steve: (laughs) No! It doesn’t look like it!
       Woman: It’s nice to tell people “Up yours!” (she laughs)
       Steve: OK. There are times for doing that. It’s like, “Off my suedes.” “Back off!” (Yeah.) OK, now do you have any questions about this?
       Woman: No, I just want to take it back through a bunch of other–
       Steve: We will do that next. (both laugh) OK. Now, you’ve done the timeline generalization stuff, the “decision destroyer” and all those things. Now I want you to first take a moment to just think about this situation and that by perceiving this in this area rather than over here, you can have all these resources of being able to notice the other people’s demands or standards and cheerfully just say, “Well, this is not one I want to meet.” (Uhhuh.) And I want you to consider that there might be some situations in which you would want to meet their standards, or somehow deal with it in a different way than “Up yours.” (OK.) It might be special friends of yours with whom at least you would want to be a little more political about it. (she laughs) Or that you might even at some point be willing to make certain concessions to their standards because you value their friendship or their relationship sufficiently. (OK.) That was important to you, and that on balance, given all your different criteria, that would be good for you, (Uhhuh.) OK? Can you think of– You’ve already thought of a couple of situations like that? (Uhhuh.) Great.
       Woman: And how I’d respond differently, you know.
       Steve: Sure, right. We want you to have the full range of response to
this. We don’t want to just send you out into the world, raising your middle finger all day long. (laughter)
       Woman: Aw, shucks.
       Steve: This not is life supporting in the long run. (laughter) OK. Now, think about this whole situation, and I want you to feel that in your whole body, feel that whole situation, these resources, and your ability to evaluate a situation and respond the way you want to, and I want you to float up . . . above your timeline . . . and go back . . . as far back as you want to go. It could be to birth, or to conception, or wherever you want to go, as long as it is way back there . . . . (OK.) And then come right up through time, carrying these resources, and each time you get to one of those times where you felt ashamed, it can change, and most of this will take place on the unconscious level. Go at your own speed and your own tempo . . . and come right up to the present. . . .
       Woman: (surprised/satisfied) Humph!
       Steve: Now, see yourself in the future, going on in the same way in any such situations where other people are attempting to impose their standards. Consider them and decide if that is something that you want to accommodate to or not. . . .
       Woman: Yeah!
       Steve: Now that looked pretty good.
       Woman: That’s . . . yeah . . . that’s real nice
       Steve: Is that good? (Ummm. Yeah.) Do you want to do it again?
(Um . . . yeah.) Take a double dose back now. (OK.) Float above, go back to wherever you went. This time come up a little faster, just come zipping up, and when you get up to the present, look out into the future and see yourself in the future with these resources in all the appropriate situations.
       Woman: OK. (laughing) I have to share the auditory part that I am so good at–it’s kind of like, “Eat your heart out, buddy.” (laughter)
       Steve: OK. Any questions?
       Woman: It feels good.
       Steve: Yeah it looks good.
       Woman: (laughing) Yeah. No questions for me.
       Steve: OK. Go forth in the world and be shamed no more.
       Woman: Wow! Thank you! (laughter)
(This session took a little less than 21 minutes.)

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