Living in shame, understanding those who shame you, and how to overcome it.
When you live in shame, you give it the power to eat you alive. Inevitably, living in your shame will control many aspects of your life. Although shame is unavoidable, it can be manageable. We are all human. We all have a deep rooted desire to be “normal” (or at least to be perceived as such). We often feel shame when we feel disconnected from the world with the fear of being “seen”. When a situation arises in your life that sends you spiraling into that deep pit of shame, you may feel the need to withdraw, hide, or obsess about our circumstances.
Shame comes in all forms. You may feel shame because of your family, friends, finances, failing school, staying in an abusive relationship, a mistake or two that you’ve made, a lie, recent weight gain, substance use, body image, career, success, parenting strategies, appearance, your dirty house, or a health condition/concern that you’ve been putting off for some time now. Whatever it is that brings you shame, you should know that you are not alone.
We feel shame because the world we live in today can be quite cruel towards our every action. When you are ashamed of something, it’s most likely because you feel disconnected, alone, isolated, embarrassed, compared to, judged, or imperfect. Although it’s hard to digest this information, we are the ones who give shame the power to manifest into something greater than it needs to be. That is not to say that shame is your fault by any means. All I’m saying is, we don’t have to be so critical or hard on ourselves because we are all human. Humans are not perfect.
I encourage you to think of a time in your life that you felt ashamed. For example, let’s say you were ashamed about a relationship with your partner. Maybe you felt ashamed because your partner was not treating you as well as you deserved and you confided in a couple of friends who then became relationship experts out of left field. They started telling you that you are a fool for staying with them. Maybe, you never asked for someone’s advice, and they gave it to you anyway. Perhaps, someone gave you advice about something in your life that you hadn’t even mentioned, noticed, or gave much thought to. This may have overwhelmed us with feelings of embarrassment, guilt, and self consciousness. I think it’s safe to say, we have all experienced this awful feeling.
Fortunately, shame can be diminished. Whatever it is in your life that brings you shame, I’m here to tell you that you can overcome this. It is not easy, nor will it be advice that will immediately click and dismiss all the shame you feel burdened by, but if you practice the art of shame resilience, you can free yourself from the agony it brings upon you.
First, you need to understand that whatever you are going through, you are not alone. There are many people in life that have gone through or is currently going through the same thing as you. It’s important to confide your feelings of shame to someone who is compassionate and empathetic. This means that you may want to reach out to someone who has first hand experience with your circumstances or at least someone who can metaphorically put themselves in your shoes and understand how you feel. Maybe they can’t relate 100% to your situation, but someone who has felt shame before (which is all of us) about any aspect of their life should be able to be empathetic enough to understand how difficult shame is to bare.
Second, you have to understand that you are in fact human, and you are not perfect. Everyone makes mistakes, has body issues, or something in their life that they are not proud to admit. If you spend a lot of time on social media and begin to compare yourself to others, you are not alone. Social media is a very toxic place to spend time on if you are someone who compares your looks, happiness, or success to the people you see online. Facebook and Instagram has become a place for people to advertise themselves in the best possible lighting. Just because you see someone online who seems to have it all, starting from the perfect body, selfies, success, family, spouse, vacations, friends, job, and a gorgeous house, does not mean that everything you see is in fact reality. Not too many people in the world are sharing their darkest times with an audience, especially without a filter. Often times, people fabricate a lot of their lives online as a way to appear as though they have the perfect life, when in fact, that is far from the truth.
Third, try to be honest about your shame and own it when talking to someone. It’s okay to admit that you feel ashamed. You may find that opening up about your shame will bring out the truth in others who were also afraid to admit something that they are going through. Shame is not weakness. You have to remember that. Openly discussing a part about yourself that brings you shame is actually the opposite of weakness, it’s courageous. Owning your imperfections is one of the highest forms of confidence, something that people spend their whole lives hiding from. When someone is able to connect with us on the same level, you might feel less alone about whatever you are going through.
Fourth, try to be resilient by understanding the people who make you feel ashamed. If someone is critiquing you, taunting you, or making you feel bad about yourself, you should look into two factors. First, why is this person making you feel the way you do? Is it because deep down, you believe them? If you know who you are, do not allow someone to make you question yourself. If they have shamed you about something you feel insecure about, understand that possibly this is something that you need to work though. Although this person may “only mean the best” by making you feel this way, try to understand their intentions and if this came from a caring point of view, or a self serving execution. This brings me to my next point. Ask yourself, what is driving this person to shame you? It’s very possible, if not VERY likely, this person is shaming you because they are driven by their own shame. Perhaps this person feels that bringing you down only brings them up a notch. Maybe this person makes you feel bad so that you can feel as bad as they do. Once you are able to decipher where this person is coming from, it may help you better understand the true driving force of this shaming experience.
Remember that you are not alone in shame. Talking it through to someone that is capable of empathy or has gone through something similar may be the driving force to bring you out of that deep pit of shame. Feeling connected rather than alone in your shame will bring you peace of mind. Owning your shame and acknowledging that you are only human may be the silver lining you’ve been looking for. Advocate for people who feel ashamed rather than bring them down along with the rest of the world. Being an empathetic and compassionate person may help you gain confidence in your own circumstances by seeing the beauty of helping a fellow shamed person out of a rut. Remember that shame is a universal feeling. Take steps every day to dig yourself out of the hole that has forced you too far down to remember how to get out. I promise you, you will get through this.