One of the hardest aspects of being human is moving past shame. Those feelings of deep regret—and the lingering insecurity and unworthiness that most likely accompany them—stick with us in a way that can be profound. But shame, explains psychological astrologer Jennifer Freed, doesn’t have to define us. And part of the work of undoing it begins with calling it out.
While shame manifests in different ways, Freed challenges us to see the universal underlying messages within our astrological charts. She uses the signs to describe what makes us feel ashamed deep down. Freed then asks us to embrace those innermost thoughts and use them as leverage for change. And once we accept that no one goes through life without experiencing shame, she says, we can make space for it and be kinder and gentler to ourselves and to others.
How to Move from Shame to Dignity and Social Action
During this pandemic, many of us have had ample time to reflect on our lives. Slowing down has promoted more introversion and self-assessment. All of this introspection has led many of us to consider the good, the bad, and the ugly parts of our past and our present. One of the most paralyzing forces that comes up as we review ourselves is the feeling of shame.
Shame is not the same thing as guilt. Guilt indicates that you’ve done something bad; shame translates to “I am bad.” Shame eats at the core of our self-worth. It feels like a dark, impenetrable cloud of self-loathing. Rather than promoting connection or expression, shame tells us to hide, withdraw, and beat ourselves up. It convinces us that we are not lovable and not powerful.
In order to move out of shame, we need the courage and vulnerability to share our pain with others who are loving, holding, and compassionate. When in the throes of shame, reaching out for a helping hand or a caring listener can feel like a battle, but only a loving other can help us distinguish between what we feel ashamed about and who we are.
My friend Melissa and I meet to discuss work. We always start our meetings with a thorn and rose check-in. With a tear in her eye, Melissa shares her thorn: “I just hate myself lately. I feel like something in me is permanently broken or damaged.”
Melissa is one of the most accomplished and beloved people I know—and I know that nothing I can say about her accomplishments or about the people who love her will touch the place she is revealing to me. So I listen to her confession of pain and shame. Then I ask her, “Is it really true that something is permanently broken about you?”
She sits quietly and says, “No,” and giggles a little. We talk about our old negative beliefs that hang around us, especially when we are not maniacally busy or distracted. We talk about how these beliefs may have loud voices but are not who we are. Melissa says she feels better just telling me how much she has been bothered lately with this old narrative. She tells me how saying it out loud gives her some breathing room.
Shame cannot live in an atmosphere of empathy and acceptance. It needs to be revealed as a deep, probing emotion pointing to places in us that need to be healed. Shame needs to be put in the right place and is a signal for personal and social transformation.
It could also be said that nothing exists without its purpose. What could shame possibly be good for? Shame reveals the shadow parts of ourselves that we have orphaned or censored. Shame helps us see where we are out of alignment with our own value systems—where we have behaved in ways that are out of integrity with ourselves. It can also guide us to see where we may be out of alignment with others and their experiences. For example: feeling ashamed of benefiting from white privilege and being an unconscious accomplice to systemic racism. It doesn’t help anyone—including yourself—to wallow in shame. Examining our privilege and the role we’ve played in upholding these systems is important, and it’s imperative to dig into it. When we free ourselves from the suppressive effect of shame, we become more available for intimacy, advocacy, activism, and creative expression.
Here are some other examples of sources of shame, alongside the themes that underlie each—themes that virtually all human beings harbor in some form.
I feel ashamed because I have been sexually assaulted. (I am bad because someone did something bad to me.)
I feel ashamed because I cheated on my partner. (I am bad because I had unconscious unmet needs, and I broke my moral code and harmed another person’s trust.)
I feel ashamed because I crave huge diamonds. (I want material things because I feel empty inside, and this means I am a bad person.)
I feel ashamed because I eat too much sugar. (I am bad because I use unhealthy coping strategies.)
I feel ashamed because I hate my in-laws. (I am bad because I cannot control how I feel about someone else, and they constantly get under my skin.)
I feel ashamed because my parent verbally abused me. (I am bad because someone who should have been loving toward me acted hatefully toward me.)
In order to transform, we need to dignify the underlying needs and aspects of ourselves that have been degraded, denied, or unfairly blamed for another’s transgressions.
We also need to start asking ourselves the right questions: That shame signals a part of me that was out of integrity with my value system—what did that part of me really need? In allowing yourself to listen to that part of you with gentleness, with compassion, and with nonjudgment, you can begin to hear your own inner truths and your compass of moral integrity.
For example: I feel ashamed because I crave huge diamonds. (I want material things because I feel empty inside, and this means I am a bad person.) What is that empty part of me really wanting?
In getting clear on our own inner desires, we can begin to move forward and make different choices. We can claim dignity in our decisions, making them with conscious awareness of our core values. Underneath shame, we find parts of ourselves that have been made to feel disgraceful; we can then bring our loving hearts to them without negative judgments.
Each of us needs a way to transform our shame into dignity. We need to find and address the underlying stories that exist below the surface and get help to either understand and work it out in a healthy way or realize that someone else doing something awful to us does not imply anything about us except that we survived.
Using the Astrological Archetypes for Liberation
Using the energies of each astrological sign, we can tap into what may be underneath the shame—and then find direction for dignifying our recovery from it.
Aries the Ram
Aries people tend to feel shame about impulsive, selfish behaviors and acting or lashing out. They often feel ashamed of how badly they want to be central to others. They can dignify themselves by realizing that rash behavior comes from inner irritation and a lack of emotional soothing. Recognize that wanting to be seen and acknowledged is a powerful longing—one that, when met with true compassion, does not have to emerge as a monopolizing, reckless energy. Aries in its highest expression is the enlightened activist.
Taurus the Bull
Taurus people tend to feel shame about needing material security, stability, and control. They often feel ashamed for bodily desires and cravings and their focus on money. They can dignify themselves by realizing that yearning for comfort is part of being incarnated; when they recognize that treating their body like a temple and feeding themselves is what truly nourishes them, the yearnings for more and more will diminish. When the Taurus energy is directed at stabilizing life for others, it is fulfilled and contented.
Gemini the Twins
Geminis can feel shame about being careless with actions and words and being all over the place in their mind. They often feel ashamed for being unrooted and insubstantial. These parts of the self can be dignified by realizing that the winds of the mind are not their true nature. Gemini can feel self-compassion for feeling spun around and can actively find ways to ground and stabilize their mind. Gemini can be the wordsmith on behalf of uplifting the collective.
Cancer the Crab
Cancerians may feel shame about underlying neediness, clinging, dependency, and a deep orientation around security. They often have a deep shame about feeling so sensitive and having their feelings hurt so easily. They can dignify themselves by validating the desire for emotional closeness and the ability to mutually and vulnerably share intimacy. In recognizing that “home” is a legitimate longing, Cancerians can feel proud to share their dreams and their ideas of home and family. They can allow others to know that underneath their shell of proficiency, they are highly sensitive souls who can be cut deeply by insensitivity. Cancerians excel when “home” is a place where everyone belongs and feels protected.
Leo the Lion
Leos can feel shame about wanting to be adored and loved so much that they become consumed with drama. They have a deep core need to be on the throne of others’ admiration. They can dignify those deep needs for primacy and affection by realizing that wanting love is the most natural thing in the world. Learning how to make self-love the pinnacle of fulfillment is the key. Leos can be thrilling performers who remind us that in joy and the celebration of differences, we can all be united.
Virgo the Vestal Virgin
Virgo can feel shame about feeling imperfect and failing to live up to impossible virtues and standards. Virgos struggle with intense criticism of themselves and others, which leads them to feel ashamed about their pettiness. They can dignify themselves by realizing that the quest for perfection is beautiful and that the road to perfection is a pothole parade. They can learn from those potholes. Virgos can be of public service in offering their skills of discernment coupled with precise social action.
Libra the Scales of Balance
Libras can feel shame about wanting to be liked so much that they sacrifice authenticity for social validation. They feel ashamed of being too much in response to others and about how they merge their identities with those of the people they are with. They can dignify themselves by realizing that harmony and collaboration are beautiful values. They can remember that if they ask first for what they need and want, the chance for balance increases. Libra energy is best as the mediator. They can hold a firm center while tolerating profound and extreme points of view and looking for places of understanding.
Scorpio the Scorpion
Scorpios tend toward shame about having so much self-hatred; they are even ashamed of their shame. The dark thoughts and feelings Scorpios deal with make them feel as if they are subhuman in some way. They can dignify themselves by recognizing that dark thoughts and feelings are the reason humans know light. Their experience of darkness is a superpower—especially when they help themselves and others to liberate these feelings from the prison of judgment. Scorpios can be the transformative energy that shatters the illusions of normalcy. They bring the boiling truths to the surface in order to have profound healing.
Sagittarius the Archer
Sagittarians have shame about feeling superior—they think they know more than others and that they have the right opinion on everything—and paradoxically for the inferiority complex that lies on the flip side of that sense of superiority. They can dignify themselves by becoming aware that the need to be right is about the fear of uncertainty. Fear can be a beautiful emotion when it’s greeted with compassion and curiosity instead of an emotional bypass. Sagittarius is the freedom fighter. When truth seeking is merged with embodied compassion, this energy is pure liberation.
Capricorn the Sea-Goat
Capricorns can feel shame around their constant ambitious desires for recognition and success, as well as a secret shame about feeling like a fraud and failure. They may feel disgrace due to feelings of inadequacy and a lack of control. They can dignify themselves by validating their need for others to know how much effort they put into their contributions. Capricorns can address feelings of failure and inadequacy as natural outgrowths of having high standards and expecting more of oneself than is reasonable. They can come to see “failure” as just another word for “learn and redirect.” Capricorn is the height of stewardship in facing failure with humility and curiosity to construct more-effective and more-inclusive narratives.
Aquarius the Water Bearer
Aquarians feel shame about their eccentric and unusual ways of seeing the world and for being different. They often feel ashamed for being at odds with their peers and for feeling out of place socially. They can dignify themselves by understanding how important being “not normal” is to the development of the human race. Instead of being defensive and rebellious about feeling different, they can soften up and talk with others about the ways that they do not feel they belong. Aquarius is the future seer. When the quest for humanity is met with the open-hearted caring for each individual, this water bearer inspires the collective to reach toward their better angels.
Pisces the Fish
Pisceans can feel shame about their emotional sensitivity and their longing to be saved by another. They often feel cowardly and weak because they are overwhelmed with feeling and dependency needs. They can dignify the vastness of their sensitivity by recognizing that feelings are always a call for love and intimacy. They can learn with others how to host feelings in a bigger story of impermanence and flow and find support systems to build true, dependable structures in their habits and lives. Pisces is the feeling of the divine compassion. It goes beyond borders and systems right to the core of human suffering. It knows that if one of us is not free, none of us are truly free.
Jennifer Freed, PhD, is a psychotherapist, mediator, and author with more than thirty years of experience in the fields of psychological astrology and social-emotional learning. Freed serves as the primary consultant for the app Co-Star and is the author of Use Your Planets Wisely: Master Your Cosmic Potential with Psychological Astrology.
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