Developing a Healthy Relationship with Shame and Pride

September 10, 2011


This is not an exhaustive treatise on shame and pride but some nutshells that you will hopefully find helpful in your journey.

I like to look at our various emotions as stepping stones across the current river we are facing, from the side of fear, despair and hopelessness to the other side of hope, empowerment, love and joy.  And I imagine the stepping stones being just far enough apart that you have to step on each one to get to the next.  What that means is – to the degree you have trouble with any of the stepping stones, to that degree it is difficult to get across the river to where you want to be.

In this analogy the idea also is to use the stepping stones to get across the river, not to stay stuck on a particular stepping stone for life.

Having a healthy relationship with each emotion is like creating a path between the stepping stones.   Where there is an easy ebb and flow of emotion as you go into them, through them and learn from them as they support you in your process to get to the other side.

Two emotional ‘stepping stones’ that I know I’ve had trouble with are shame and pride and I’m learning to develop a healthy relationship with them rather than an unhealthy one.

To me shame and pride seem like they are on opposite ends of a scale or a continuum.  Shame being on -10 and pride being on +10.  My tendency is to get stuck on shame.  One of the repetitive lines I remember as I was growing up was “You should be ashamed of yourself!”  And I’ve tended to avoid pride.  As the saying goes, “Pride goes before a fall” so avoid pride at all costs!!!  Just kidding:)!

I’m about to share some of my thoughts on how to get on to and over those stepping stones on life’s journey but before I do why don’t you take a moment to reflect on your own relationship with shame and pride?  Do you avoid them at all cost?  Is there one that you favour?  How do you experience them?   If you want to get more mileage from this, write your thoughts down.

What I find helps is to get some perspective from a higher vantage point.  Some people call this the ‘witnessing’ state but whatever the name, it’s simply the place where you reside inside yourself and can ‘see’ what’s going on with you from a non-judgemental sense.

You can imagine it on paper/screen like this.  From that ‘higher’ vantage point inside yourself you can see where you along the shame-pride continuum.



Shame -10 —————————–+10 Pride

A point of note: the aim is not to reside at a point halfway between them called neutral or ‘0’ but to honestly feel where you are in each instance, as only from knowing where you are, can you decide where you want to go and effectively move ahead.

The way to be able to step on each of these ‘stepping stones’, so you can get across the river you are facing, is to:

  1. Appreciate each for what they are.
  2. Appreciate yourself for feeling them.
  3. Learn the lesson they hold for you, in the moment you are feeling them, so you can move forward with your life.
Having a healthy relationship with shame means being willing to feel it but not stay stuck in it.  We can appreciate the feeling of shame because it tells us we’ve done something that we are not happy with and we will be uncomfortable until we address it.  Rather than avoiding it or wallowing in it interminable, we need to use the feeling to help us address what needs addressing, so we can move on.
Having a healthy relationship with pride is about being willing to feel it but not be attached to it.  We can appreciate the feeling of pride because it tells us we have done something we are happy with, which is a very good thing to feel.  As creative beings it’s natural to be happy with our creations.
But part of being creative is that we will create stuff that we are not happy about and we need to remember that too is great.  Because it will help us decide what we do like so we can go about creating that.  It’s a normal part of the ongoing cycle of life’s expansion.
So we learn and grow both by doing things we are ashamed of and by doing things we are proud of.  I believe that the more we allow ourselves to stand on these two ‘stepping stones’, appreciating them simply for what they are, the faster and smoother we can cross the river and move onwards with our life’s journey.
Of course there is a lot more that can be said about shame and pride and about an unhealthy and a healthy relationship with them but that is for us all to uncover for ourselves.
I invite you take a look at your own experience with them and how you think you could develop a healthier relationship with shame & pride than you already do, so that you cross your rivers in the unfolding of your own life.
And remember if you want to get more mileage from this exercise – write it down and refer back to it:)!
The source of wisdom truly is that still small voice inside each of us.  I often wish it would speak louder but then would that teach us the all important art of listening to it:)?!!!

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