Recently, I realized that shame, at least certain kinds of shame, is nurture, not nature. That is, we are not born with a sense of shame. We learn to feel ashamed when we do not live up to norms and standards. As I have argued in my master’s thesis, shame is used to maintain the status quo and existing hierarchies in part because people higher up in the hierarchy cannot be shamed to change their behavior by those further down.
I am learning that this is too broad of a brush around shame. I ignored the crucial question: whose norms and standards? Obviously, we might feel shame when we do not measure up to our own standards (although then this shame might not lead us to think we are intrinsically bad and, most crucially, we see a way we can change). What makes shame so toxic is that it leads us to question that we are lovable. With shame, as Brené Brown defines it, we feel painfully unworthy of love and belonging, I would now add, because we fear being kicked out of the community, the society, we live in whose standards and norms we violated.