Shame often can’t be seen directly, what stands out are the defensive behaviors that people use to camouflage and to attempt to escape their experience of shame, such as desperate measures including violence that people may use in attempting to shift unbearable shame off themselves and onto others.
Common indications that internalized shame is engaged in its pernicious work are utterances of self-blame, self-contempt, or comparison making in which the person always comes out on the short end. Counter-shaming or other defensive and coping behaviors observed are put-downs, blaming, superiority, emotional withdrawal, numbing, or “acting out” in all its various forms, from substance abuse, to sexual addiction, to violence itself. Once shame becomes internalized, a shame spiral or shame attack can be set off by an otherwise benign external or internal event. Internal: A person experiencing a feeling or desire that has been shame bound. External: A communication from another in which the person notices some nonverbal or verbal cue that she/he interprets as rejection or devaluation or both. Higher Internalized Shame: Shame residing as part of the (Gestalt) ground that reinterprets new experience in the light of prior experience and inevitably reproduces shame.
The term dysfunctional family describes a condition that is best thought of as a continuum of unhealthy rules and behaviors that are seen in many households. This ranges from severely abusive families where physical and/or sexual abuse occurs to the equally damaging, but more socially accepted emotional abuse that routinely happens in many families.