We have all felt shame at one time or another. For many, shame is often the obstacle to joy. Perhaps we were teased for how we dressed, or for not getting that job we wanted, or because our marriage ended in divorce. Why do people shame themselves and others? Shame stems from a perceived sense of wrongdoing. More accurately put, shame evolves from how we were taught and conditioned to judge something. At a young age, we learn what is right and wrong. When people do not behave or act in a way deemed acceptable to the external world, they are often judged by others and then, by themselves. How we are treated — and how we treat ourselves — in the aftermath of doing something that is judged as ‘wrong’ is often internalized. While fleeting at the moment, these internalized reactions have a long-lasting impact on our wellbeing and behavior.
Brené Brown, a renowned clinical social worker, researcher, and author defines shame as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging — something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do that makes us unworthy of connection.” Brown’s research and other studies confirm this truth: humans are hardwired for connection. “Love and Belonging” are included in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and are considered an important foundation to our self-identity. Shame threatens feelings of connectedness, love, and belonging; and in turn, it can threaten our sense of self. Often, the effects of shame contribute to psychological distress and sometimes physical health risks. It is time that we find ways to rid the thoughts and beliefs that cause us shame.
Escape shame and become a Shame Buster by engaging in the following two actions:
Everyone can remember a painful or disquieting life experience. It is important to remember that when our emotional well-being takes a strong blow or is threatened by external events, our memory registers the feeling fueled by the perception of the experience. Meaning, we remember how we were made to feel, even if our memory of the details of the experience are less articulate. This feeling is etched and embedded within the subconscious, and can be activated or triggered when a new experience occurs that arouses similar body memory. Unconscious retrieval of those feelings can beget shame and lend to negative self-talk. Dismantling the thoughts connected to a belief system that does not serve us permits us to move into honest self-reflection. Being honest with what you believe, think, feel, and want allows you to bust shame.
Self-love is often an afterthought, as we are taught to bestow love onto others that we value in our lives. We must offer the same love to ourselves that we grant others. Many ask, ‘how do you love yourself?’ It’s simple — start by treating yourself with kindness and respect. Be willing to show yourself grace when you do not accomplish what you intend to. Allow yourself to be the benefactor of mercy when you mess up. Grant yourself permission to be who you are by accepting exactly where you are. Remind yourself of all the positive qualities you possess. Find opportunities that cultivate inner growth in the areas in which you desire to mature.
As you evolve into a Shame Buster, be patient with yourself as you develop and implement these practices. It takes time to relearn how to view yourself and the world. Seeking the support of a therapist to work through this process can often be helpful.