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Shame... is an act in which a vulnerable child would rather swallow the poison of taking full responsibility for a mistake than have the caregiver reject them. Leaving them alone to wrestle the risk of a predation or attack in a dangerous world.

This is built on a foundation time frame when the sense of self is weak and not well established. When confidence is being built, but still tethered to the caregiver's verification of identity.

Shame is an incredibly destructive emotion that is most commonly born in the relationship between an early caregiver and a child. This erupts as a nervous system response in close conjunction with the fawning response and is part of our survival programming that is contingent upon the caregiver accepting us and maintaining our safety from the world around us.

Shame Corrodes the Part of Us That Feels Capable of Change

Once shame is well established in the nervous system as a collapsing emotion, each subtle failure attacks one’s sense of success or self and compounds upon the deep suffering sabotage. Even the subtlest sense of failure drops the head into an agonizing state. Every time this collapse occurs, aloneness and self-abandonment attack the system, eroding a sense of capability and sense of the agency required to shift to change. Change requires the nervous system to buy in and invest as well as boost the sympathetic arousal required to invoke movement in change. 


Lots of Treatment:
Failed Attempts at Change

One of my most profound interactions with shame came with a wilderness therapy young adult student that had failed treatment approximately ten times. I was filling in for a therapist who was on vacation, meeting with her student. He had been working on growth for some time, but he had been here before.


When interviewing him, I asked what he had learned along his long treatment journey before us. His head and voice immediately dropped. In this space, nothing mattered, and nothing lasted as we talked. This was all built upon the foundation of each time feeling alive and fully committed to change at the end of his treatment stay, but shortly thereafter, he used.


Each time an accumulation of small and simple failures, yet his nervous system collapsed under the weight.

“Shame as a Safe Place protects the Child from having to confront the fear that in fact the caregiver is dangerous”

Knipe 2018

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