How Shock and Shame Shut Down Healing

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Two things that can keep your body from humming along the way it should are shock and shame, each for very different, yet related, reasons. 

Shock is defined as a life-threatening medical emergency characterized by the inability of the circulatory system to supply enough oxygen to meet tissue requirements. When the body doesn’t have enough blood circulating, the flow of oxygen and nutrients to vital organs is reduced.  

Shock is a survival crisis because it shuts down the body, causing it to freeze. So, shock is really a paralyzing condition. The body freezes, and that’s how we react when we are shocked. 

Shock is not harmful if it’s a momentary event that goes away. But if the shock stays, it can inhibit blood flow. And when there’s no blood flow, there’s no oxygen or healing. Your body responds by trying to fight this, which leads to inflammation. The effects of shock go deep, and at times, are devastating to our overall health and healing. 

What Are Some Causes of Shock?  

A few common triggers include: 

  • Physical trauma such a car crash or a gunshot wound 
  • Psychological trauma like the death of a loved one 
  • Physical extremes like hypothermia 

Understanding Shame’s Effect on the Body  

Now, another obstacle to healing is shame, defined as a heavy feeling of humiliation and distress at the consciousness of a wrong or foolish behavior. 

Like many psychological burdens, shame, over time, begins to cause very real physical damage to the brain and body. Sleep loss, irritability, increased blood pressure, and risk of stroke or heart attack can all manifest because of carrying loads of guilt for too long. 

What causes shame? Sometimes it’s something as small as when a kid gives the wrong answer to a question in class and the others laugh at him/her. Sometimes it is bed-wetting. When the feeling of shame overwhelms someone, their life is never the same. They lose their confidence. They shut down. They’re no longer themselves. There’s no flow. And then there is a disconnect. 

When you can’t let go of something, whether it be a shock, trauma, or shameful experience, the body is left with a scar. Why the residual scar? Because you haven’t fully let go and therefore are not fully engaged in the moment.  

This is one of the reasons people develop patterns they try to hide and “box”, so they don’t come to the surface. It’s called the Box Pattern in Chinese medicine. And it uses up a lot of energy. When we are young, we can manage, but as we age, we have less energy — and that’s often when these patterns give way to physical and emotional issues. 

Suddenly, for example, someone gets chronic fatigue. It may not be that they don’t have enough energy because of suboptimal mitochondrial function. They have multiple energetic systems to feed all the time.  

I say that shock and shame shut down healing. Let me speak specifically about that. 

Shock is a state that renders you immobile, triggering your whole nervous system. Shock is mega. Shame traumatizes you, so shame doesn’t let you be who you are anymore, because you’re not free flowing anymore. Shock throws you off.  

So, shame doesn’t necessarily lead to shock. Shock is really a place where our regular day to day flexible defense systems can’t handle it. 

How to Get Un-Stuck 

Most of us become “stuck” in emotions and situations such as shock and shame. And, as I mentioned above, this period of stagnation can adversely affect your life. When you get stuck in any emotion, thought, or behavior pattern — either physically, mentally, ideologically, or spiritually — problems like chronic illness arise.  

When you are unconscious and unaware of how certain emotions and events shape you, you become trapped and unable to move forward. Meditation is one of the best ways to gain a new perspective on your thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and attitudes, and to understand your role in perpetuating them. Breathing practice is another important method. 

While there is a line between letting yourself feel your feelings and dwelling on something, it’s important not to stifle your emotions. Take the time to feel and then move through feelings as they show up in your life. This is not always easy, but the rewards are well worth the process.  

We all carry different scars. The secret is to learn to let them express themselves  and let them go. Move into moment-to-moment awareness by living in the moment. If you can do this, you won’t get stuck, or at least not in a way that compromises your health and life. 

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