The Seed of Shame (Part 2/3)

This is how the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines shame, but I prefer the all-encompassing definition that Mary C. Lamia Ph.D. uses, in that shame informs us of an internal state of inadequacy, unworthiness, dishonor, regret, or disconnection. Shame is a clear signal that our positive feelings have been interrupted. Another person or a circumstance can trigger shame in us, but so can a failure to meet our own ideals or standards. Given that shame can lead us to feel as though our whole self is flawed, bad, or subject to exclusion, it motivates us to hide or to do something to save face.”


The seed of Shame.


My shame manifested from my experience in Brazil but for most, shame stems from the family home. According to Barrie Davenport, “If one or both of our parents were bound in shame, they passed that painful legacy to us through their feelings about themselves and their treatment of us. Children are particularly vulnerable to shame because they develop their identity based on their parents' reactions to them. When we are made to feel deficient, inadequate, and unlovable, we begin to see ourselves this way.” John Bradshaw goes even further in pointing out that 90% of the shame we carry doesn’t even belong to us. It was given to us by wounded parents in a process called the inter-generational transfer of shame. Regardless of the trigger, when shame is experienced the deterioration of an esteemed sense of self can be devastating. In addition to the typical emotions that can accompany shame, such as envy, anger, rage, and anxiety, we can also include sadness, depression, depletion, loneliness and emptiness as a result.


This is where shame became an incredibly debilitating and dangerous emotion for me when my team needed me most to perform. When shame results in a self-attack, it is overwhelming, and it overrides how I viewed myself, smothering me in doubt, while limiting my ability to be present, confident and most importantly, perform. As with all emotions, shame requires perspective since it is placed in the context of our environment and current concerns. However, our response to shame is shaped by all of our emotional memories of when it was previously experienced (my experience in Brazil). The accumulation of emotional experiences that reside in my memory scripted my responses when a particular emotion was activated in the present, this was in the form of a missed dig or a shanked float serve.



How do we deal with shame?

Anger, withdrawal, blame, contempt, control, perfectionism, and people-pleasing are all strategies that temporarily alleviate the general pain of feeling inadequate and unlovable. Experienced in an athletic competition, most of these strategies become obsolete due to the lack of time and space to cope with this debilitating emotion. This leaves withdrawal to become the all-encompassing strategy to deal with shame, pulling the athlete away the present moment, from their teammates and away, withdrawing inward to a past full of failure and a future full of anxiety.


Hollow eyes and a deep feeling of inadequacy draped across my face in my 5th year overseas. 




This is what our medical trainer would tell me in my 5th year as a professional, playing for GFCA in the French League. I was only a year removed from Brazil, I thought I had escaped the anxiety and insecurity but I wasn’t able to shake the shadow of shame just yet. He could sense the onslaught of doubt developing on my face, you’ve seen it.. a long face, hollow eyes, with an intense internal focus. It was a prelude to the feeling of inadequacy. If I were to experience another “poor outcome” in the form of a poor pass or or a missed dig, I would slowly decent towards catastrophizing into deeper feelings unworthiness, disconnection and shame.


Once this subconscious shaming began, I began burying myself in self-doubt, approaching the next server only with the hope that he would leave me alone.

“I hope he doesn’t serve me”
“He has a great serve, I hope he misses.”
“Not this guy again, I shanked his last serve.”


These limiting thoughts tore me out of the present moment and placing me either in a condensed past of failures of missed opportunities or a future full of anxiety, with plenty opportunities for me to let down my team and myself. With shame in the driver’s seat, I was stuck, I was stalled, I was playing with fear, I was playing with an ambiguous hope, a hope that the game would just end - so that there were less opportunities for me to let down the team.


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