Welcoming Shame Guided Meditation

May this meditation bring you into communication with your shame and let it serve as a guide to help you live by your own moral code.

Welcoming Shame Guided Meditation

This meditation is part of a series that focuses on what we might typically see as our “harder” or less acceptable emotions. Many of us have learned to push away these less desirable emotions based on a variety of reasons, perhaps religious, cultural, or social. Yet we know that it’s not healthy for us to repress emotions, and our meditation practice helps us create space for what is present within ourselves, even if it’s hard to face.

We want to learn to understand our emotions better, what they’re trying to tell us, and identify how they show up in our body, so that we can then work with our emotions and use the gifts they bring us instead of fighting against them. We'll explore how shame serves as a guide to help you live according to your own moral code. My teachings and the following meditations have been greatly informed by my study of Internal Family Systems Therapy or “parts work,” Somatic experiencing, and the book “The Language of Emotions” by Karla McLaren.

If you'd rather listen, you can hear a recording of the information below on Insight Timer.

The Difference Between Shame and Guilt

I have to start with a few disclaimers. Let's first distinguish between guilt and shame. Guilt is a factual state, not an emotion. Either you're guilty or you're not based on some moral or legal standard. On the other hand, shame is the emotional consequence of wrongdoing. So throughout this teaching and meditation I will focus on the word shame, talking about an emotional state. 

Toxic Shame

At the top we also have to talk about toxic shame. Unfortunately we have such a bad relationship with our own authentic shame, that we struggle to connect with it and see anything useful about shame at all. Most of us have been taught about shame by being shamed. Shame has been used as a form of control by authority figures. We weren’t trusted to moderate our own behavior and were coerced to embody other people’s ideas of right and wrong. If you were raised in a worldview like I was, where you were told from a young age that you were bad at your core, a sinner from birth, shame most likely lives deep in your body. Tread with caution and compassion because this deep, longstanding shame can be resistant to you working with it.

When we are constantly in a blocked state of not wanting to feel shame, we will keep doing wrong or we will feel stuck because we aren’t allowing ourselves to moderate our own behavior. A first step is just getting curious about what our shame feels like, and exploring where our shame originated, which we’ll do in our meditation after this teaching.

Understanding Shame

The primary gift that shame brings is to help bring you into integrity according to your own moral code and can lead to atonement and behavioral respect. Shame is the internal counterpart to Anger’s external role. Anger sets external boundaries, and Shame sets internal boundaries that help you respect yourself and how you want to show up in the world. In an IFS framework, there are parts known as exiles. Exiles can carry a lot of shame from the past, and are often harder for you to access because there are layers of protection trying to keep the exiles safe. Know that when trying to work with shame, it can be best to do so with a therapist or other trained professional that can support your process. It might be helpful to simply start with noticing when you feel shame and spending some time journaling about what it feels like in your body and what stories come up around your shame. 

How Shame Can Feel In Your Body

Shame can manifest in various parts of the body. It can feel like heat rising, or a flush, intensity, or an internal pull in the gut or another body part. Shame can be paralyzing, leaving your speechless or literally stopping you in your tracks.  You might feel tension in the shoulders, chest tightness, a lump in the throat, or a sinking feeling in the stomach. These sensations often accompany feelings of embarrassment or exposure.

Shame might feel like “I’m in trouble” or “I’m going to get caught doing something wrong.” It can feel childish, if shame entered into your life early.

You may notice changes in your breathing pattern, like shallow or rapid breathing, or shame might also cause breath-holding or a sense of being unable to catch one's breath. You may take on a posture of trying to make yourself physically smaller as a protective impulse, such as slumped shoulders, avoiding eye contact, or crossed arms or legs.

You may become more vigilant or sensitive, or even shake. The sensations of shame can be powerful, so please offer yourself tons of compassion when exploring your shame.

Who has been hurt? What must be made right?

Shame, like anger, acts as a guide helping us see when we have crossed our own internal boundary. So you can see your healthy shame as a form of anger toward yourself, when you have done something wrong or you have been convinced what you did is wrong. When we are in a healthy relationship with our shame, it can help us to live the life we want according to our own ethics and moral code and help us to be in right relationship with others. It can help us recognize our own shadowy behaviors and make amends to those we may have hurt. 

The Power of Healthy Shame

In her book, Karla MacLaren says that when we are in healthy relationship with our shame, we will see the world as a place of grace, rather than living in fear of punishment. When we can trust our shame to help us restore integrity, we will flow easily into happiness and contentment, knowing that we are living in line with our own moral code. 


I hope you’ll join me in the meditation that follows as we get in touch with our shame to create space for its healthy expression in a safe space. As we journey together, remember that shame, when approached with respect and curiosity, is a guide. Trust yourself, welcome your emotions, and allow shame to play its role in protection and restoration.

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