What is Shame?
Shame is one of those topics that people like to pretend doesn't exist. It's a word we rarely use, and when we do, it's usually in a negative context. But shame is real—it's just as much a part of life as joy or anger or love. But too much shame can destroy relationships, keep us from moving forward on our goals, and can become the glue that holds all of our anxiety and self doubt together.
We All Feel Shame
Researcher, Brené Brown defines shame as, "the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging". It can be caused by a person's own actions, or the actions of others—or even their thoughts. And while it's experienced differently from person to person and situation to situation, it's always based in a feeling that we're not good enough as we are.
In this sense, that is how shame is different than guilt. Guilt tells us when we need to change something in order to be a better version of ourselves, where shame does not drive change. It keeps us stuck because it is tied to our identity of being bad or no enough, not our actions. Change happens when we take action on our goals (not in spite of them).
It Impacts Your Relationships
Shame can lead you to feel like a burden to others. Your shame might make you withdraw from your friends and loved ones, and it may even cause you to question how much they truly care about you. Shame will make it difficult for you to open up about your feelings or problems because these things are seen as weaknesses, which is something we all want to avoid when we're feeling embarrassed or ashamed of ourselves. But that is exactly how shame thrives. Dr. Kristin Neff explains that shame thrives in secrecy, silence, and judgment. Shame is created in relationships and heals within relationships.
It Is Fucking Exhausting
It can be exhausting to keep feelings of shame a secret. It's natural to want to protect others from your pain, but the cost is high: you may feel misunderstood and isolated, which leads to secret-keeping, which in turn leads to more shame. Holding our shame in can lead chronic fatigue. Constantly worrying about how others may perceive us, where we may mess up or fall short is an exhausting fucking cycle.
Owning And Healing Your Shame
The first step in owning your shame is to be honest with yourself. This means identifying the specific things that cause you shame and the situations that trigger the feeling of being ashamed. There are so many different ways shame can show up in our lives and shedding light on it can be one of the most vulnerable things we can do,but remember shame thrives in secrecy. When we speak our shame it begins to lose the power it has over us. I encourage you to find people you feel safe with to share your shame stories with, because I promise, you are not alone. One of the biggest fighters of shame is compassion, both self compassion and receiving compassion and empathy from others. You deserve to give yourself that opportunity.
There Is Hope
So, if you’re struggling with shame and you don’t know how to live without it at the forefront of your mind, there is hope! The first step is to acknowledge that this feeling is real and it affects many people. You are not alone. It doesn’t matter if your shame triggers are small or large; they are still valid.
There is so much power in identifying your triggers, finding new coping mechanisms, and sharing your doubt with those who make you feel safe and supported. Remember, even when you can't see your own light and beauty through your shame, it is there. Sometimes we just need a little reminder.