Why would anyone want to research shame? Shame is a painful and uncomfortable feeling that we’d rather not address, rather not feel and instead push away to avoid it at any cost. It is highly correlated with addiction, depression, eating disorders, violence, bullying and aggression.
However, I have come to realize that shame can also hold immense power and potential for personal growth and connection.
That's why, after four years of studying holistic massage and movement therapy, I selected shame as the topic for my thesis.
My inspiration for this work came from the research of Brené Brown, who has spent years studying vulnerability, courage, empathy, and shame. She describes shame as the gremlin that says things like, “you are not smart enough, you are not pretty enough, you are not worthy, your spouse left you because you are worthless, you never get the promotion because you have no skills,” etc.
While Brown has explored shame from a cognitive perspective, I wanted to incorporate the physical body into my research, as I have found that becoming more attuned to the body and its connection to the mind can have immense benefits.
Learn more about shame and how to deal with it!
Shame cannot survive being spoken about. It cannot survive empathy.
Massage therapy as the antidote against shame
While shame is primarily an emotion and a feeling, it is also “a biologically hardwired experience”. I have personally experienced how feelings of shame can manifest in the body, leading to tension, pain, immobilization, disconnection and other physical symptoms. However, I have also realized how massage therapy and bodywork can help to restore the connection with the self.
My research was divided into theory and practice. In the theoretical part I looked at the psychology and physiology of shame. I explored the difference between shame and guilt and how shame and trauma are related. Additionally, I elaborated on the physiological aspects of shame, mainly using the polyvagal theory as a foundation. For the practical part I recruited a number clients, and each received five sessions of massage therapy.
The results showed that massage therapy was effective in working through shame. It increased body awareness for all participants, and in combination with psycho-education around the polyvagal theory, it led to an increased sense of agency, which in turn resulted in more self-compassion. Clients also reported feeling more embodied and connected to their bodies after the massage therapy sessions.
The study also found that clients restored their connection with themselves in different ways, and a bottom-up approach was found to be effective for reducing shame. However, in some cases, combining massage therapy with psychotherapy may be helpful. Overall, the study highlights the potential of massage therapy as a complementary treatment for shame, and suggests the importance of addressing shame-related issues in therapeutic settings.