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Disgust & Shame

Updated: Dec 24, 2019

Hey Justin, Thank you for the great podcast. I wanted to ask you about the "disgust" thing - did I misunderstand, or is disgust the way to shake off shame? And if so, disgust at what exactly? With yourself?

Hi, thanks for reaching out and being a Listener! I truly appreciate the question.  It really makes me look at my understanding and think deeper.

Disgust seems to be the experience of the body 1) protecting itself from a toxin or 2) needing to rid itself of a toxin.  So on a practical level, it would be something like poison or rotten food.  Something that tastes bad that we need to get out or something that smells bad we want to keep out. Similar to predators that won't eat a corpse, which is why the tonic immobility is such a good defense for prey.

As far as shame and trauma go, I'm understanding disgust as 1) a response to the event that happened (such as disgust of a smell, which acts as a warning) and also 2) the biological cue that there is a toxin within the body (which we may feel during or before vomiting out a poison).  The toxin in the case of trauma would be toxic shame.  Like I said in the episode (based on Peter Levine), shame has a function (like time-outs), but with traumatic experiences, it violates the victims's natural biological shame response.  This is different than the trauma experienced when we lose a loved one.  With grief, we experience trauma (work of Candyce Ossefort-Russell), but without the shame.  Because it's not imposed from another person onto us.

I don't think disgust is the mechanism to shake off shame, just like it's not the mechanism to vomit out a toxin.  It's part of the experience of ridding the body of a danger or protecting the body from a danger.  But the shaking and trembling aren't disgust in and of themselves.  Think of the last time you cried. Like, really cried.  Your body probably shook, trembled, took heavy gasps of breath... but you felt better afterward.  You felt lighter.  You were thinking more clearly (I hope so, at least).  You don't need to feel disgust to go through the process.

Peter Levine said that disgust is "the gateway to emotions" or something to that effect.  So if we were to stop and notice our disgust...and sit with it and listen to it... it would open us up to something else within us.  And that may be that it acted as a warning to some danger in the environment.  Or that there's something within us that we need to rid ourselves of, like toxic shame. Definitely watch this video from Peter Levine.  He discusses how disgust is an attempt to expel something from the body. 

Thanks again for the question.  I hope this was helpful and clarifying.


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