The Dance of Shame and Compassion

In Continuing with the theme of Cultivating a Relationship with the Divine, I am introducing the complex culprit of shame that keeps us from developing not only a strong relationship with the Divine, but with ourselves and others.  I have studied shame extensively and wrote my doctoral dissertation on Clergy and Shame.  During this time of study I have found one solid and complex theory that helps deconstruct shame and how it works.  However, the hard work of psychological restructuring after a shame attack is more difficult than just figuring out the why it happened question. The theory that makes sense to me about shame is the work of Silvan Tomkins, Donald Nathanson,  Vernon Kelly and the many other hard-working researchers and practitioners at the Tomkins Institute. Click here for more on Tomkins Institute

The importance of this article is to help you understand that Shame keeps you from acts of compassion toward yourself and others.  According to Silvan Tomkins humans are have nine pre-wired biological affects and one of those is shame.  What in the world is an “affect?”  Simply stated an affect is a biology of our emotion.  This biology of emotion then impacts our day to day mood and our cognition.  The nine biological affects according to Tomkins are: Interest, Excitement, Surprise, Distress, Anger, Sadness Fear, Shame, Disgust and Dismell.  Of these nine biological affects, the one I have studied the most is shame and shame seems to be at the root of all our behavior, especially behavior that perplexes us.  Have you wondered why you keep doing something over and over again, vowing each time you are not going to do it again?  Do you wonder why you seemed to be having a good time and enjoying the moment and suddenly things went hay-wire and a great evening turned into a complex cave of nasty emotions.  Do you wonder why that memory that causes your eyes to well with tears, keeps haunting you day in and day out?  The answer to all of those questions has something to do with shame.

Shame is at the core of our emotional pain.  Tomkins’s definition of shame is very simple.  He states that shame is the interruption of a positive experience.  For instance, you are going about your own business of feeling good about your life and suddenly something goes wrong.  Perhaps you were expecting to have a good time with your friends and suddenly over dinner one of them says something that hurts your feelings.  When that happens the compass of shame is activated.  Donald Nathanson added to Tomkins’s theory the concept of a Compass of Shame. Nathanson states that our reactions to shame are like an internal compass and most humans do one of four things when shame is triggered: Avoid, Withdraw, Attack Other, or Attack Self.  A compass covers mass amounts of territory and does not give you the entire map.  When using a compass, you must keep moving to find a path that takes you where you want to go.  If you are lost, you may not know if you want to go north or south.  Being lost in your inner self is just like being lost in an unfamiliar forest.  This example of being lost in an unfamiliar forest explains why we keep doing the same old things that we keep promising we will never do again.  We are lost.  We are going in circles, never going far enough in one direction or the other to get to our goal.  We keep repeating history and keeping making promises not too but don’t look far enough inside to free ourselves from the forest.


In this workshop on Developing the Art of Self-Compassion you are going to explore this Compass of Shame and come to understand yourself and your behavior better while you are developing mindful techniques and practices of self-care and compassion. True compassionate internal responses must be practiced if you are going to make any head-way against your harsh inner critic.  Compassion toward others and toward ourselves is an internal response of empathy, care, concern, and assistance.  If we are not able to practice compassion, then the underlying reason is shame. Shame interrupts compassion and sends the self into a path of self-destruction.

When Dorothy ends up on the yellow brick road, she runs into her three inner critics and the witch who wants her power.  We will explore the scare-crow, tin-man, and lion as those parts of ourselves that feel stupid, unlovable, and frightened.  Shame is like the witch, it stays after us swirling us around and around in the forest until we figure out ways to get the witches broom and return home to our true self.


This workshop you will not want to miss.  Sign up today by clicking

Invite a friend to come with you.  Enjoy the beauty of Carefree in the afternoon after the workshop.  This is an opportunity to “upgrade,” your personal growth work.

If you need help getting off the fence on this workshop, email your questions and I will be happy to help you make up your mind.

To purchase this book to help you learn to journal and get to the root of some of your Shame stories Click here

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