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Breaking the Chains of Shame: NLP & Positive Psychology Insights

Chain of Shame

Table of Contents

Shame is a topic deeply relatable to many people, it is for sure a topic of interest for many people who take an NLP training. Whether they take NLP training for personal benefit or for work with others, for instance, as a coach.

You’d think there would be more personal development tools out there to help us understand and overcome shame. Today, I want to deep-dive into the topic of shame and offer you some solutions from the world of NLP combined with positive psychology.

The Programming of Shame

Shame is about not meeting other people’s standards and, as a result, being made to feel bad about ourselves.

Shame is Installed in the Past

Shame is installed in the past, but we use the standards of others as a means to judge ourselves in the present.

1. In a past event or series of events, shame was installed.
2. We go back in time, and we use the standards of others.
3. We can not meet these standards.
4. We re-experience the moment of not meeting these standards as if it is real (associated point of view.)
5. We feel the pain impulse of not being good enough.

Typically you see shame installations done by critical parents, other family members, teachers, members of our community, and our childhood bullies.

We Take Shame into the Present & Future

If we are “shamed” often as children, we start to make it a habit in the present to assume there are standards that we aren’t meeting.

Decoding this:
1. We imagine there are high standards we can not meet (which technically often aren’t really there.)
2. We step into the shoes of the version of ourselves not meeting standards in the present or the (near) future.
3. We associate and experience the pain impulse as if it is really happening.

This is often not conscious.

Becoming an Expert at Being Shameful

Typically, when babies are born, there is a natural progression from lying in a crib unable to roll over all the way to having the ability to maneuver and run. Most kids follow the same pattern.

Most kids, not all kids. I never crawled; I shuffled around on my butt. And not a clumsy, slow shuffle. No, not at all. I would have won if there was a shuffling on your butt Olympics, beating the other children who do crawl, and are frankly a little boring.

Levels of Learning

Unconscious Incompetence

There was a point in our lives when we weren’t aware of the concept of running or walking, and we couldn’t do it.

There was also a time in our life when we had never experienced shame. We were born whole, competent, and void of shame. We had yet to learn of standards.

Conscious Incompetence

We then started to learn from our environment and imitate others in that nifty thing called walking. We want to master it, as it makes exploring the world, and getting to our favorite human or food much more effortless. Before we walk, we wobble; we aren’t very good at it.

There was a time when we became conscious of failing to meet standards. We got a pain impulse.

Conscious Competence

After much practice, eventually, as long as we concentrated, we could walk. Make short sprints even.

When we experience an impulse in a single event not meeting standards or a series of events, our brain eventually learns shame. We become masters at feeling shameful whenever a bully, a critical person, or a parent indicates we aren’t meeting the standards.

Unconscious Competence

Eventually, walking and running became automatic; we didn’t have to think about it anymore. We magically could move from A to B.

Shame becomes our auto-pilot. We walk through the world assuming we need to meet standards.

Shame Flips to Self-Esteem, Anxiety, Perfectionism, and Lack of Confidence Issues

The moment that we became masters at feeling shameful, we start to automatically assume that:

1. We aren’t good enough; we lack self-esteem.
2. We experience confidence issues in different contexts, holding us back.
3. We assume we will be negatively judged in future events, which causes worry, stress, and anxiety.
4. We become perfectionists to avoid getting hurt.

Shame starts to seep into all areas of our lives.

NLP Meta-Programs

In NLP, we often talk about the meta-programs we run in our mind. The programming of our brain.

There is a meta-program we run in our minds that helps us understand whether we are doing a good job.

Internal Reference

You decide if you have done a good job or not. If you are self-compassionate and realistic, this is a nice quality to have; you can correct yourself, learn, and pad yourself in the back. You become harsh if you have low self-esteem or become anxious when you do not execute a job flawlessly (perfectionism).

What can make this even more challenging if the standards you set for yourself are based on something other than proper knowledge, education, or understanding of the world and yourself.

External Reference

Most people who are experts at shame have an external reference. They need someone else to tell them they have done a good job.

It is one thing if this person is knowledgeable, kind, and has your best interest in mind versus a critical person or bully. Perhaps even someone whose ego or self-esteem is fed by critiquing you.

Fixing Issues With Shame By a Coach

The Levels of Learning

One major challenge is the fact that there is unconscious competence in doing shame. While a new learning needs to shift from unconscious incompetence to unconscious competence.

To unlearn shame:

1. Requires a really big-bang intervention that shakes the core to the point that there is a one time learning on how to use healthy standards of yourself or others – NLP Master Practitioner tools are ideal.

2. Requires a period where new learning is done, stepping into confidence regularly.

Nearly all coaching methods fall short here; non-nlp trained coaches typically need to learn how to do this. An NLP Practitioner can easily facilitate new learning over time, and a (well-trained) NLP Master Practitioner can create that big bang. In fact, I teach my students how to create custom NLP techniques based on the person’s history and map of the world.

The NLP Meta-Programs

It is about learning a healthy internal or external reference.

Based on:

1. (self) compassion.
2. Proper reality testing.
3. Fair standards that are not too low, or too high.
4. Standards based on actual knowledge and expertise.

Working with Shame if You Are NLP Trained

Patterns that could create a big bang:

1. The NLP shame pattern developed by Steve Andreas, which combines a map across the meta-model (as far as I know, Global NLP Training is the only company that demonstrates this pattern in their NLP Master Practitioner.)
2. Core Change Work or Core Transformation – this kind of work is usually taught by NLP trainers (such as myself) who teach in small immersion seminars and are experienced in teaching in-depth NLP.
3. A custom-designed NLP technique (only a handful of NLP training companies teach how to design.)
4. Trauma work (would have elements of the Fast Phobia Cure.)

If you still need to be NLP trained and are considering taking a class, check for this in the syllabus of the company you are considering.

Patterns that can teach the brain over time by practicing over and over:

1. New behavior Generator
2. Circle of Excellence
3. Map Across & Submodalities
4. Well-Formed Outcome Process
6. Values Elicitation & Coaching

Working with Shame Using Positive Psychology and Coaching

Hunting the Good Stuff & 3 Things

Positive psychology gives us a few excellent tools for this. At the end of your day, briefly write in a journal what “good stuff” happened today.

Or use the 3 Things exercise, which need to be written about daily right before you go to sleep:
What are 3 things that went well today, and why?

Re-Write the Story of Your Life

Another positive psychology exercise is one where you write the story of your life differently. Re-write your life story from the perspective of a survivor and hero. Focus on learning a new standard as you do this once a month. Use a standard that is kind, compassionate, and realistic.

Setting Goals & Finding an Accountability Partner Who Does Not Shame You

A fantastic way to learn a new standard and become more confident is by setting and meeting goals; this will help increase a sense of self-regard and self-actualization, both essential elements of Emotional Intelligence.If you find an accountability partner with a good standard that you could steal, invite this person to be your accountability partner. You can learn as you go along.



Positive Psychology – Shame and Guilt

NLP Life Coaching versus Other Coaching

NLP Technique – How to Stop Resenting Yourself


The links below are affiliate links, purchasing any of these books gives us a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself
Kristin Neff, Ph.D.

Guilt, Shame, and Anxiety: Understanding and Overcoming Negative Emotions
Peter Breggin, MD

The Gifts of Imperfection
Dr. Brene Brown

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