We live in a society that’s historically been emotionally and sexually repressed. Unconscious shame is the means by which we repress our socially unacceptable emotional and sexual impulses.

Unconscious shame is a layer of invisible ‘emotional concrete’ that overlays the whole of society. It is so widespread that its effects are considered totally normal and generally pass without notice.

Our conscious and unconscious minds can be understood as follows:

  1. Conscious mind—our clear, rational mind that can make decisions without unconscious bias or interference.
  2. Shame layer—a layer of emotional concrete that we can neither see through nor think through. It shrouds all our unconscious wounds in emotional fog and represses emotional pain through numbness.
  3. ‘Sexual-spiritual split’—a term coined by Michael Picucci, founder of The Institute for Staged Recovery, for “a deep psychic schism” within us that judges which parts of ourselves are socially desirable (e.g. strength, intelligence) and which are undesirable (e.g. emotions, sexuality).
  4. Unconscious mind—an emotional swamp containing all our wounds, traumas and unprocessed pain dating from our current life, recent generations, and distant ancestors.

Unconscious shame originates in our patriarchal past when the need to survive dictated that people maximised their masculine warrior abilities and minimised their feminine, nurturing aspect.

This created an overwhelming pressure for people to repress the aspects of themselves that conflicted with social standards—chiefly our emotions and our sexuality. They shamed others for exhibiting socially undesirable qualities and felt ashamed of themselves for sensing those qualities within themselves.

This in turn created anxiety over the repressed aspects of being, and a consequent fear of discovery and punishment. As a repressed society, we have little idea what ‘normal’ emotional and sexual behaviour is—for the simple reason it hasn’t existed in human societies for thousands of years.

“What we call ‘normal’ is a product of repression, denial, splitting, projection, introjection and other forms of destructive action on experience.”

R.D. Laing

Epigenetic inheritance

Shame is handed down from one generation to the next via a process known as epigenetic inheritance. This generational shame effectively operates as a low-grade, difficult to recognise form of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

During adolescence, social institutions, including families, schools and churches reinforce this inherited shame by rewarding ‘good’ behaviour and punishing ‘bad’ (emotional/sexual) behaviour.

As society has become more prosperous and we live ever more comfortably, we increasingly come into contact with our repressed emotions and sexuality—particularly if we’re overly sensitive.

This has resulted in a soaring rise in anxiety (particularly among women) as well as skyrocketing porn addiction and other forms of sexual dysfunction (particularly among men). The journey out of shame is planetary just as much as personal.

Unconscious shame can also be perceived in the lives of troubled celebrities such as Michael Jackson and Amy Winehouse. It is invariably present in cases of sexually-motivated criminal behaviour.

“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will rule your life and you will call it fate.”

— Carl Jung

Shame-based social conditioning is a factor in the following beliefs, behaviours and issues:

Physical conditioning

  • Shame of the body
  • Squeamish at the sight of blood
  • Dislike of touching and hugging
  • When hugging, we back our hips away

Emotional conditioning

  • Anxiety, stress, panic attacks
  • Lack of confidence
  • Inability to cope
  • Fear of change
  • Fear of public speaking
  • Dislike of having our photograph taken

Sexual conditioning

  • Vanilla sex only
  • Sense of sex as dirty
  • Sexual phobias of all kinds
  • Difficulties in discussing sex
  • Difficulties in initiating sex
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Premature ejaculation

Cyclical issues/addictions

For more information, please see the Are YOU Ashamed? toolkit.

Releasing shame

To clear unconscious shame requires:

  1. Penetrating the shame layer
  2. Healing the ‘sexual-spiritual split’
  3. Clearing all unconscious trauma

The journey out of shame takes us from repressed behaviour to conform to social expectations to self-controlled behaviour that satisfies our individual needs yet is also respectful to others.

My experience is that recognising, accepting and releasing unconscious shame through personal development work can alleviate or entirely resolve many shamed-based issues. This is not achieved overnight, nor is it achieved without painful soul-searching. But it can be done.

For further information on unconscious shame, please see:

For further information on releasing shame, please see the Releasing Unconscious Shame toolkit.