Shame is a Body Response Driven by the Freeze State of the Nervous System
Shame is a body response driven by the freeze state of the nervous system. This part of your nervous system shuts down and immobilises your energy.
You may notice that you’re in the freeze response by a disconnection from your body, somebody talking or your environment. You may feel numbness, like a fog coming over you, stopping thoughts and sensations. It could also involve feeling drained of energy, sensing a tightness in your chest, or collapsing in your spine.
This inhibitory effect in your body is designed to down-regulate you as a defensive response when you feel overwhelmed. Shame itself is protective and helps you learn prosocial behaviours – what is acceptable to the tribe or group and what is not. If shame occurs regularly and without also a sense of connection and belonging even if you do slip up, it can become chronic. Instead of it being about something you’ve done, it can become the sense of who you are.
Behaviour makes sense when we look at it through the lens of the nervous system. Shame can also lead to defensiveness (fight energy), withdrawing or avoiding (flight energy), or appeasing others or a situation that triggered this survival response. Alternatively, we could feel stuck in a situation with a lot of charge in our body, yet are unable to act, which can eventually lead us into dorsal vagal shut-down.
Shame is not something you need to get rid of. In fact, when we resist or try to get rid of shame it may increase dysregulation. Being able to notice and track our bodily responses can create a shift out of its downward spiral. When you feel pulled down into shame and disconnected from your body and learn to recognise these cues of a need for safety, this is where we can reach for connection with others.
The below questions can help you to reflect on your own regulation and sense of belonging.
What places do you feel a sense of connection or belonging?
Who are the people that help to shift you towards connection and belonging?
What activities help to upregulate your system?
If you’d like to learn more about why nervous system dysregulation can happen, how your physiology perpetuates this cycle and most importantly how you can fix this for improved emotional, digestive, and physical health – join our upcoming Vagus Nerve Masterclass.
You’ll receive your own nervous system toolkit filled with effective, evidence-based techniques that build emotional regulation, resilience and help you to recover quickly from stressful events. Learn more about the Vagus Nerve Masterclass here.