As a child, one may experience shame and embarassement around things or issues that the child perceives to be different from his/her peers and friends. Almost all of us experience this in a mild form at some point or another in our childhood.
But in many cases, shame becomes a problem because some aspect of our childhood ‘cut a deep groove’ in us and the emotion was never fully processed. As a result, we carry that shame into adulthood and project it into our current circumstances, even though our adult life, externally speaking, is totally different from what we experienced as a child.
One might be ashamed about being gay, or ashamed about not having sufficient financial resources in childhood. Or you may be ashamed about the fact that your peers now in adulthood had a upper class upbringing while you did not.
Shame may manifest in adult life in different ways. May be you don’t fully express yourself in conversations because you are worried about what others will think. Or may be you don’t fully open up yourself to your partner or close friends because you are afraid of being judged. Basically, you feel queasy or uncomfortable with expressing yourself fully. And this may not even be in your conscious awareness.
In a nutshell, shame is the feeling that I am not enough, as I am. And since I am not enough as I am, I need to manipulate how I express myself to the world so that I conform to what I believe to be acceptable social norms. Given that shame is a psychological phenomena, there can be many variations around the same basic theme – which is that I am not enough.
Shame needs to be acknowledged and brought into broad daylight. It then seems to have a transformative power. Sujatha Baliga is a powerful example of someone who has been able to do this. In listening to her, it is obvious to me that she had transformed the shame and anger around her childhood sex abuse into something rich and life affirming. Its quite an amazing transformation. Of course, the #metoo movement is in this vein as well.