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Posted Wednesday August, 31st 2022

How Shame and the Intergenerational Legacy of Trauma Impact the Whole Self

Shame is a powerful emotion that leads one to feel defective and/or damaged. Shame has a major impact on self-esteem and self-image. Many times individuals get shame and guilt confused. The difference is that shame leads one to feel that the whole self is wrong, while guilt is situational. Shame can lead one to cover up failure and prevent the deep connection that is necessary for one to feel whole and lead a full life. Brene Brown distinguishes that guilt is holding something we’ve done or failed to do against our values and feeling psychological discomfort. While shame is an intensely painful experience or feeling that leads one to believe that they are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging; something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection.

“[Shame] is a part of what it means to be human, influencing who we are and how we behave”. -Brene Brown

Brene Brown’s research can help us get a better understanding of shame and how it affects our lives. She has found that most individuals don’t want to talk about shame because it poses the risk to leave them feeling uncomfortable and vulnerable. Shame is a fear of connection, it is those things that say if someone knew this about me I would not be worthy of connection. Based on various experiences and sometimes due to the culture and society we were formed in, it teaches us to mask vulnerability; the not needing help, or avoiding let down persona. But, once one masks vulnerability they also mask true joy, gratitude, and/or happiness.

Shame blog


It is vital for all to understand their perception of shame and the immediate, persistent, and generational impact that it has in one’s life.

Legacy burdens are derived from intergenerational trauma, they are feelings of shame transferred from one generation to the next. A legacy burden is any belief or emotion passed down genetically through the family tree, ethnic lineage, or environment/society. According to Deran Young, Licensed Therapist and Founder of Black Therapist Rock, “Rather than staying stuck in pain, guilt, shame or defensiveness, it’s important to recognize that we all have psychological wounds that stem from fear based “parts” of our personality that took on protective thoughts, feelings and behaviors passed down and around during our early years of social conditioning”. Legacy burdens initiate the feeling of shame because those that have experienced such trauma early on usually feel an obligation to “keep quiet and not embarrass the family”, even if this sense of devotion conflicts with one's sense of self-worth. In order to break the connection with intergenerational trauma is to begin to form a connection to self.

Shame stems from disconnection, many individuals begin to experience shame in the early years of development. Many parents shame their children because of the culture of shame that exists in society. To truly address shame one must be willing to address their self-worth, in order to eradicate shame one must be willing to have intimacy with self and others.

In order to begin the work to deal with the shame that one has experienced, it requires the individual to have or develop a connection with self. Instead of disconnecting from self or others, work has to be done to disconnect from the societal or generational bondage that has been placed on the individual in the form of shame. The Internal Family Systems (IFS) uses an approach that allows individuals to resolve legacy burdens, and release pressures that may not be serving in a positive manner any longer. IFS does this by encouraging participants to form a connection with Self. Self is identified as a compassionate courageous part of everyone that knows how to heal. The good news is that we all have the opportunity to heal the damage that has impacted one’s self in the form of shame, and disconnect from personal, relational, and collective impact of shame.

To learn more about shame, and learning ways to disconnect from the impact that it has had on all of us, join us for our next Master Series: Shame Edition. Learn more about this amazing experiential learning opportunity here.

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