Society is more open to discussing shame with the #MeToo movement as a key example. Not everyone realizes that they are carrying shame. I never really thought of myself as someone who did until I listened to Brene Brown’s book “Dare to Lead”. Suddenly a deeply hidden memory resurfaced and it prompted me to explore the topic in more detail, the personal work resulted in significant life changes.
‘Shame’ according to Brene is “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 makes us unworthy of connection.”
It is a failure to meet one’s own inner standards, that feeling of “I have not done my best”. This results in an internal punishment belief system. When there is shame there is no honor. This does not mean that shame is to be avoided at all costs, it can be a great emotion for self-improvement and growth to become the person that we desire to be at all levels of experience. Brene Brown has researched the benefits of her ‘Shame Resilience Theory’ for strengthening us as individuals and a society,
The first step to any transformation is awareness of something. If we are unaware then we cannot heal and change from the life lesson. To bury an emotion so deep and never experience the sensations arising from it holds us back, in ways that we cannot know.
Shame may be hidden yet expressed in many ways, but here are a few:
- Poor choice of partner
- Eating behavior
- Lack of self-love
- Self-blame for mistakes
- Inability to take responsibility for oneself
- Feeling inferior (this can result in the opposite behavior of superiority actions)
- Concerns around stature and perceived position in society
- Strong internal critical voice of one’s own behavior
Dana James developed the ‘archetype diet’ based upon how someone deals with shame which impacts their emotional beliefs and decisions about food and eating habits. She explains that shame is the leading cause of food issues and weight problems, but not necessarily shame about body image or weight. It can be shame of other aspects in our emotional state that lead to poor eating habits.
Step 1: Thoughts
- Acknowledging shame can feel remarkably odd. You may feel like there is nothing to ‘do’ with acknowledging shame or the experiences linked to it.
- To know that there is shame being held within is the first step.
I felt all those defined feelings but never considered that I was holding shame. I had often wondered, “Why are all my exes addicts?” Why did I permit someone to always choose drugs over me? The truth – I was too ashamed to believe I was worthy of unconditional love.
The shameful memory was my first ‘committed’ boyfriend who had abused me emotionally and sexually. I never admitted this abuse to anyone, not even myself. My inaction of permitting the abuse intellectually did not feel shameful to me as I could rationalize the mess of our relationship and how the saga unfolded. However, the decision to permit the treatment was a failure to my inner standards of looking after myself. I was ashamed of myself.
After taking the time to feel and recall the experiences from 19 years ago, I took the time to write it out as a story. This helped me get perspective on what I had carried.
Step 2: Write
- Write out the story as telling it with all brutal honesty.
- Let the pain, anger and hurt flow with the pen.
- You can burn or destroy the story after in a ceremony to acknowledge that it has passed.
How can we release our shame? Writing is a first step and can be personal. But to release the shame requires being vulnerable and a willingness to receive an expected response from someone. This requires speaking up about the shame.
There is a fine balance in the choice of sharing. Fear says: “It is okay not to share. There is nothing to do with it now. That was the past and there is nothing to be gained from telling someone. What is to be gained from this?”
The heart knows the deep pain blocks receiving unconditional love; it wants to heal. Compassion is the key emotion to counter the emotion of shame. It begins to release the critical inner voice of shame that endlessly condemns.
Be soft and gentle when approaching telling someone about the shameful story for the first time. Select someone empathetic and patient. The key is that there is no rush to speak and to have the time to be kind in the inner feelings as the words come out. Be aware of the shame, thoughts and other feelings arising at the time.
Step 3: Share
- Share the shameful story with someone that has a good empathetic awareness.
- If this is not a friend, then pay for a professional to listen.
Now, I have a loving and supportive partner so I chose to share with him. This was relevant and important as the healing step because the initial shame was from sexual acts with a partner. All I needed to do was tell him the story and hear the empathetic words “I am sorry that happened to you.” I felt deeply awkward and like a failure of myself as I shared the words, but slowly I managed to express the whole shameful story.
“If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can’t survive.” ~ Brené Brown
Creativity comes through in two ways:
- Deeper authenticity of self-image
- Conscious choices away from self-harming actions.
Between awareness and the confession of shame, there is a space created to change. As the pain leaves so there is also an emotional and energetic release. Energy begins to flow through the mind, body, and experience and from this new opportunities arise. There is space for compassionate inner thoughts and new choices of behavior. When choices of new behavior occur that are less addictive and self-harming behavior, there is space for creativity to enter.
Psychologists explain that shame stifles creativity because not speaking up about our authentic feelings inhibits the free expression of emotion required in creativity. This negative self-image restricts us from seeing opportunities and solutions in life that can bring more fulfillment. Creativity doesn’t mean being artistic, and as Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith categorizes in ‘Sacred Rest’, creativity is a form of rest where we see wonder and awe in the world around us.
Perhaps at the time of acknowledging shame the benefit cannot be perceived. The mind plays tricks not to become vulnerable and share, but to share is to open the mind to more beauty and opportunities in life.
Step 4: Compassionate Connections
- After sharing the shameful story with someone, enjoy some self-compassion and activities that encourage connection.
- Connect with nature, animals or people. Notice the colors and changing shapes in their amazing variations.
- Be aware of the triggers that may arise still and try to sit with them rather than react. If in an empathetic environment, be open about feelings.
- Begin an appreciation or gratitude practice.
I took the time to see the beauty of nature and connect to a local yoga community. Suddenly ideas came to me and before I knew it, I was opening a creative business within a month of sharing my shame. Coincidence?
No, each time we peel a layer of the onion of our human suffering we reveal a wondrous life gift meant for us to experience.
Connecting to the future dreams
There are many ways to connect to being alive that produce aspects of healing. Often in my line of holistic well-being ‘being present’ and ‘mindful’ are considered the only answer. There is much to benefit from focusing on the present moment as a way to fully accept life for what it in each given moment. It is important to have a vision for life and some intentions of what to create. But sometimes, the past needs to be faced to let go of it, and create space for the new blessings.
However, the subconscious can hide old beliefs, pain and memories that need to be set free to stop resisting a fulfilling life. It takes courage to be vulnerable and admit to inner shame. It is a deep act of self-love that permits greater wonder and awe of the universe into our experience.
This work connects into Law of Attraction and the deep hidden resistance that we may have to fulfill our potential. Get in touch with me if you want to learn more or just receive an empathetic ear.