Shame is believing there is something innately wrong with us. Sometimes we don’t even recognize that how we are showing up in life is because we are full of shame. Until one day, shame makes and keeps us sick. Or we find ourselves stuck doing the same things over and over again, heading down a familiar path of self-destruction, or re-creating the same old dynamic in a relationship where we end up thinking we have to change things about ourselves in order to be loved. The stories we tell ourselves about being unlovable are rooted in shame, and they can be re-written.
Brené Brown defines shame as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging. ‘I am bad.’ ‘I am a mess.’ The focus is on self, not behavior.” We think to ourselves, “If people really knew me, they would think I am _____________” (fill in the blank with whatever word(s) come to your mind).
Shame leads to secret-keeping, hiding, and living a life where no one really ever knows who we are. Sometimes shame runs so deep, WE don’t even know who we are. We protect ourselves from ever being vulnerable because the cost of exposing our real self is much, much to steep. The status quo must be maintained. Said another way, shame keeps our eyes looking at the ground; binds our hearts with feelings of being unlovable; and keeps us small. Have you ever wondered, “What would my friends think of me if they knew my deepest, darkest secret?”
I recall the lengths I would go to — even at 5 years old — to keep myself hidden. On the beach I had my Mom build a make-shift tent with a beach umbrella and towels so no one could see my nakedness while I changed bathing suits to get rid of that awful sand that collected in the crotch of my bathing suit. I was ashamed and could not let anyone see my body.
As an adult, I lived for a long time with chronic feelings of inadequacy and being unlovable. I was attracted to chaotic and unhealthy relationships because I thought that was all I deserved. The feelings of unworthiness and being unlovable led me to want to end it all by driving my car into a wall while driving 55 m.p.h.
It was then I realized that shame might just kill me, and I really didn’t want to die. And so, something had to change. I began to work shame out, and in the process, learned some really important ways to do that. Here are some tips that really helped me transform my shame-based life into one of authenticity, honesty, and courage. I hope they will help you as well.
1. Ask yourself, “What stories am I telling myself about who I am? How do you know they are true? What evidence is there that supports your story? Whose voice do you hear — yours or someone else’s?
2. Name your shame. What about yourself are you afraid to show the world?
3. Listen to how you speak to yourself. Are you kind and compassionate, or are you judgmental, and call yourself names?
4. Write about your shame. Start with answering the question, “who am I?” Notice the words you choose when you write about yourself.
5. Practice having mercy and loving kindness for yourself. Think of yourself as a child, and practice saying kind and loving things to her/him. What messages does s/he need to receive? How does s/he need to receive them?
6. Quiet your inner critic. Do something creative — draw, paint, color, make something — and while you are doing that notice and practice not judging how well (or not) your work came out.
7. Tell a trusted friend a secret, and pay attention to how you feel when you do this. The key here is to pick someone who is trustworthy. You don’t want to do this with someone who will criticize or judge. You know who those people are, and they are not the ones to do this with! Shame cannot withstand being exposed.
8. Practice yoga. Focus on your breath and notice how you feel in your body. With mindful awareness, quiet the inner critic and judging that shows up. Have mercy on your beautiful self.
9. Get help if you need it. Sometimes we need to have support in place in order to work through all that comes up as we cleanse ourselves from long-held beliefs that cause feelings of shame.
10. Remind yourself you are precious and worthy, and give yourself permission to cry. Watch how shame begins to fade, and you begin to blossom into who you really are.
Have tips you’d like to share? Add them in the comments section below.