Many of us try to rid ourselves of those things in our life that we feel weigh us down and prevent us from experiencing happiness (addictions, toxic relationships, depression, etc.). Sometimes we are able to do it. Other times it continues to plague us like something that we feel is apart of our selves that we can’t ever imagine our lives without. So what keeps us from getting what we truly desire and on to a path of peace and out of the constant suffering?……. Shame.
Fossum and Mason defined shame in their book, Facing Shame, as “an inner sense of being completely diminished or insufficient as a person. It is the self judging the self. A moment of shame may be humiliation so painful or an indignity so profound that one feels one has been robbed of her or his dignity or exposed as basically inadequate, bad, or worthy of rejection. A pervasive sense of shame is the ongoing premise that one is fundamentally bad, inadequate, effective, unworthy, or not fully bad as a human being.” Or in other words, we don’t take off our chains of unhappiness because we don’t believe we are capable or worthy as a person.
People often confuse shame with guilt. However, in reality, they are two very different things. Shame is a secondary emotion while guilt is a core emotion (see my blog on secondary vs. core emotions). Fossum and Mason also do well at defining guilt as “the developmentally more mature, though painful, feeling of regret one has about behavior that has violated a personal value. [It] does not reflect directly upon one’s identity nor diminish one’s sense of personal worth.” Guilt leads to change in behavior by feeling it and is an outward emotion (meaning it is about others and how we have affected/hurt them). Shame does not lead to change in behavior and experiencing it just leads to more shame and despair. Shame is an inward emotion (meaning it is self-focused and about ourselves). We use it to protect ourselves, but it just leads to more despair, isolation, and hiding.
There are only three ways that I have seen that helps us to get out of our shame. First, bring it out into the light. Talk to people about how you are feeling and what is happening with you. Talk to them about your fears and especially about the things you fear they will reject you for.
Second, building a connection with God. Prayer and a spiritual connection with our higher power helps remind us of our value and potential as humans.
Third, facing the shame. Notice when shame starts to creep up on you. Practice some self-compassion and mindfulness practices. Also, turn that shame into what your body needs to feel; the core emotion. This might be sadness and fear but is probably quite often…guilt. Let yourself feel how you might have affected yourself or the individuals around you by your actions. Whenever I catch myself going into shame I recognize it and start doing a guilt process. I think about other people and how they might have been affected by my actions. This gives me a sense of love and compassion for them and brings me out of the darkness and into a desire to do better and to change.
Getting yourself out of shame can be difficult to do. This is why it’s important to seek help from a therapist or coach to assist you in walking through these processes and out of the shame.