Shame 102: Using Creativity to Help Release Shame

Original Artwork by Laura Sharon

Welcome to Part 2 of a 3-part series on shame.

In Part 1, we deconstructed the definition of shame and introduced a 3-step process to help us begin to unload the heavy weight of shame. In Part 2, we explore using creativity to deal with and release shame when it shows up.

Some of you might be saying, “but I don’t have a creative bone in my body, so how am I going to do this?” Don’t worry. Creative expression can take many forms and does not, in any way, require you to be “an artist.” It may, however, challenge you to not judge or criticize yourself.

So, the intensely painful feeling of shame has shown up. You know it has arrived because you have been practicing the 3-step process introduced in Shame 101: Step 1 — You recognize shame’s presence and admit you have the feeling. In Step 2, you begin to expose the shame to some sort of light. Perhaps you did some writing about it. And in Step 3, you noticed — without judgment — what happened after you completed Steps 1&2. So, now what?

Take Step 4: Get to know your shame better by getting creative.

It’s okay if you’re scared or resistant in any way. Just acknowledge that and carry on. You don’t have to like this step right now either. Rather, I want you get curious about your shame, and to know it better by exploring what caused the feeling. In other words, what situations/experiences/people “triggered” the shame you are experiencing?

As a reminder: “Shame is 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.” -Brené Brown

Use the following writing prompt to get started:

When ______________ happened, I felt ashamed. Continue writing answers to the following questions. Where do you notice the shame in your body? What color is it? What is the self-talk you are noticing? Keep going. What else? What other feelings are you aware of? Write down your answers. Don’t worry about what or how you are writing. No one is going to see this but you.

Now ask yourself, “when have I experienced this feeling and had this type of reaction in the past?”

WRITE DOWN YOUR RESPONSE. You don’t have to write paragraphs. Keep it simple. Just capture the gist of what you are thinking about in words or phrases that come to mind. The objective is to get what transpired out of your head and onto paper. If words don’t come, try drawing a picture or making a collage by cutting pictures, words, or phrases out of a magazine and gluing them to a piece of paper. For other ideas about how to creatively express yourself, click here.

Now, CHECK IN WITH YOURSELF. Whose voice do you hear saying the words (e.g., is it your voice or someone else’s)? What story are you telling yourself about the situation and/or how you reacted? Is that story true? How do you know it’s true (or not)?

Remember, shame thrives in the dark. When it is ignored or kept secret, it is in the driver’s seat, not you.

The idea here is to tease apart what actually happened (i.e., the facts) from what you made it mean. The goal is to identify and get clear about potential situations that can result in shame being triggered. “Why?” you might ask. So that when shame happens, and it will, you’re more aware of what’s happening as it happens. This awareness gives us much needed space to learn to respond rather than to react to the intensely painful feeling, and gives us an opportunity to get back in the driver’s seat.

Feelings are part of the human condition. They are not good or bad. They just are. It’s what we do with them when they show up that makes the difference in how well we deal with different situations.

Though shame is an intensely painful emotion, it doesn’t have to control us. Rather, by recognizing it, naming it, noticing what changes, becoming more aware of what triggers shame, and getting creative with it, we are better able to process the feeling and release it, rather than be controlled by it.

You can see an example of how I used creativity to help heal from childhood trauma — which of course includes shame — in my book, When I Lay My Hands on My Heart: Healing Through Words and Color.

I invite you to give this a try. You deserve to be freer and lighter. Give yourself permission to let shame go.

And, as you continue to unload the weight, tell us in the comments section below how this next step in the process works for you.

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Laura Sharon

Writer, poet, coach, and consultant. Certified Daring Way™ Facilitator.