How many of us have heard “shame on you!” growing up? It’s no wonder that we, as adults, now struggle with feelings of shame. There is a variety of emotions you can experience, some are considered “positive” emotions, while others can be considered “negative.” Shame is a “negative” emotion, meaning once it creeps in, it can do a number on your self-esteem and has a habit of energetically spiraling you downward. Shame can become a constant feeling that something is wrong with YOU. It is a disturbing emotion because of its negative frequency and often we are confused on what to actually do while we are experiencing it.
I learned from my children’s counselor that we need to distinguish between shame and guilt, because they are not the same. Shame, to our mammalian brains, means something is inherently wrong with US. Guilt is an emotion felt because we DID something wrong. Shame has us focused on feeling bad about ourselves and unworthy of love. Hence why it is so important to learn how to let go of inner shame. Read on for tips on how to LET. IT. GO.
One key pillar to your mental health is seeing and owning your inherent goodness. As a baby born into this world, you never questioned your inherent goodness. You knew you were good and worthy of all the love the world had to offer. It’s our experiences and conditioning that leads us to doubt our own worth. When we recognize the inherent goodness within us, that has always been there and will always be there, it becomes easier to let go of shame.
As with many things in life, it is necessary that we give ourselves certain things first before looking for it from others. In order to heal shame, we must learn how to be compassionate with ourselves first, before looking for compassion from others. If you are in the middle of a shame trigger, and can recognize it, kudos to you for the awareness AND be compassionate with yourself. Sometimes we didn’t receive compassion as a child or young adult so it is very important as you work towards healing shame that you give yourself compassion in these moments.
Setting realistic expectations for yourself in both the shame healing process, as well as just life, will be essential to your success of overcoming feeling bad about who you are as a person. Know that if it has taken x decades to get you to this point, healing isn’t going to happen overnight. It’s a process, just like anything else. And as far as other life goals are concerned, set realistic expectations for yourself so that you’re not beating yourself up for consistently not meeting your own goals. This just creates a shame spiral that isn’t necessary and can be avoided easily.
This is helpful not only for addressing shame, it’s helpful for creating the life you truly want to live. If your inner voice (I like to call it the inner critic) is consistently berating you for a job poorly done, how do you think you are going to feel day in and day out? By changing our inner voice to one of love, compassion, and positivity, the feelings of shame and unworthiness begin to fade away. Even if you have to set a reminder on your phone each day to tell yourself something great about yourself, DO IT! It’s one of the simplest ways to rewire that inner critic.
Discussing these types of feelings with friends, family, trusted loved ones, coaches, counselors, etc., can be tremendously helpful as well. Sometimes having our own greatness reflected back to us is one of the most empowering experiences one can have. People that love you and are in your life to serve your highest good will listen intently on what you are feeling AND also remind you that you are a wonderful human being, just the way you are.
One of the things that keeps us “stuck” the most in life is the inability to forgive ourselves. When we can’t forgive ourselves for things we perceive as “wrong,” we keep ourselves stuck in the mud of shame and self-loathing. The inability to forgive ourselves over an extended period of time can even lead to health issues such as autoimmune disorders (where the body is literally attacking itself). So in combination with the tip above, have compassion for yourself as you look back on past transgressions. You don’t have to be proud of how you handled something, but be compassionate for who you were at the time you experienced those “shameful” events. You were doing the best you could at the time, with the tools (or lack thereof) at your disposal. Forgive yourself for those experiences, knowing we all make “mistakes” at times. I’ve even heard some spiritual mentors say nothing is really a mistake, these occurrences were and will always be a part of our paths that are continually evolving. And in the words of Maya Angelou, “When you know better, do better.”
Shame is insidious, wreaking havoc on our mental, emotional and physical health. Yet every human seems to have it, to a certain degree. The more we can focus on eliminating it from our internal world, the happier and more fulfilling our external world will feel.
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