Shame can make you believe that you are not smart enough, good enough, attractive enough, are unlovable and are deserving of suffering. Shame is the feeling that you, in some way or another, are wrong. It is something you’ve been incubating for decades. If you were repeatedly given a label, stigmatized, made fun of or stereotyped- these are the seeds of shame and they can become the lens through which you see yourself. How can you start to manage shame?
Find the root. Think back on when your problems started. What was going on then? Who were the big influences in your life? What messages, labels or stereotypes were you given by those around you? What negative beliefs about yourself did those create?
Get real with yourself. Who are you? What are your personality traits? What are your strengths? What are you good at? What do you enjoy? Also- what are your shortcomings? What do you find hard to do? List these WITHOUT judging them. Remember: they do not change your value or worth. Those weaknesses are not the whole of you and if you can see them for what they are- known road blocks- you can work around them. Acknowledge your strengths and your weaknesses. This isn’t about labels, its about knowing how you function.
Evaluate the source. For each negative belief you have about yourself identify the person(s) that helped plant it. Who would you have to be to make them happy? What interests, political beliefs or personal values would you have to have? What would you have to dress like or look like? Now, compare this person to the person you are. Do you actually want to be that person?
I once had a supervisor that made me feel like I was a complete mess- that I was strange and couldn’t do anything well enough. When I reflected on who I would have to be to actually be enough for her I found: I would have to wear feminine clothes, ditch the jeans, stop swearing, drop my love of all things creepy, become organized to the point of near obsession, judge people based on their appearances and make friends accordingly, I would have to try to “fit in”.
The person I just described is the literal opposite of who I would ever want to be. Once I realized that, I realized that my “not being good enough” for her meant I was, in fact, being good enough for me.
Re-brand your ‘failures’. Often when we fail at something we see that as the final and ultimate proof that we are not good enough, smart enough, et c for that particular task or skill. The reality is that ‘failures’, or misses, are a natural part of learning. Without misses you never improve. This is true for skills like sewing or woodwork but it is also true of skills like managing stress, being social, even having healthy relationships.
Get help. Maybe you find that you can’t find the root of your shame or you even identify what you feel shame about. Maybe you can but the thought is so devastating that you are terrified of going there. Maybe your shame is tied to your sexual orientation or gender. Pushing it off only means that the shame has more time to consume you. It is time to get help. Find a therapist that you feel comfortable with and get some of this garbage off of your back.
Guilt and shame are so closely related they can be hard to separate. Guilt is the fuel that keeps the shame cycle alive.
Click here to get to my blog post on managing guilt.