The shower can be one of the most private and safest places in the house. It is a place to escape to and one that can offer solace when you need it the most. In truth, the shower is one of the few places I can cry and no one will hear. Somehow, I can take off all of the masks and just be vulnerable. It is a place where I have prayed the hot water would wash away the pain, shame and tears.
Just last weekend, I found myself retreating to the shower and needing a really good cry. Old wounds had been sliced wide open and all of the dark hopeless feelings of the past came spilling out with a vengeance.
I felt raw and broken. Quite honestly, I questioned if I had done any healing at all? I had spent tireless days, months and years learning to forgive myself. But, as I stood crying tucked safely inside the granite shower walls, I couldn’t help but wonder if I had truly forgiven myself.
Unfortunately, we all have triggers and those triggers can open old wounds of the past. For me, it was but a few words – words that brought me right back to a place of shame and regret. All of the emotions that I had worked so hard to control imploded in an instant.
Words somehow derailed me and without warning, I found myself back in the past. Suddenly, I had become a failure and a bad person that felt ashamed, unworthy and unloved. Shame reared its ugly head and I was no longer able to see any of the good in me or all of the good I had done. In short, I felt so defeated. Shame on me.
How does that happen? How do human beings fall prey to shame and vulnerability so easily?
I write about this stuff. I am an advocate of forgiveness and letting go of the past. My mantra is that anyone can change regardless of past mistakes and go on to become better people because of them. Yet, the power of shame slammed into me with a vengeance and knocked me to the floor.
Shame is one of the most powerful things people will face. It is universal and in reality, no one is immune. Shame is a formidable opponent and when faced on the battlefields of life, it will often win. Once it entraps you it can hold you prisoner for a very long time leading to all kinds of negative and self-defeating thoughts.
People feel shame in many ways and if asked, the definitions are often deep and personal. Feelings of shame can be described as lonely, isolated, worthless, painful, unlovable, broken, stained, bad, failure, not good enough, self-loathing and flawed.
In her book, “I Thought It Was Just Me” Brene’Brown, Ph.D., LMSW captures a succinct definition about shame. She writes, “Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of acceptance and belonging.”
This is so true. Mistakes of the past or tough life experiences can leave people feeling flawed, broken and unworthy. Have you felt ashamed or unworthy of love?
My guess would be yes. Shame weaves its way into our lives in the most subtle ways. Sometimes it lurks in dark corners but often it shows up hiding in plain sight and in all of the obvious places that are a part of who we are.
- Body Image
- Being a Mom
- Family Dynamics
- Job Performance
- Religious Beliefs
Of course there are more shining examples of where shame creeps into our lives but you get the idea. Shame is everywhere.
A former colleague and current friend shared her feelings of shame. “I feel like a failure as a woman and as a wife. Menopause has kicked my ass and I feel so old and ugly. It is hard to feel pretty or sexy and the last thing I want is sex. I don’t deserve him.”
My heart broke for her and yet I could relate. Shame shows up far too often and it can create problems in our relationships, impact our work, feed our addictions, fuel anger and steal our happiness.
However, please don’t be discouraged. There is hope and there are things people can do to try to manage shame when it shows up. Here a few thoughts:
Recognize Shame and Increase Self-Awareness
It is impossible to manage something or fix it if we are not aware it exists. Shame can be confused with other emotions but it is important to develop a shame radar and know what shame is. If you are constantly feeling bad, beating yourself up and feel unworthy it is time to dig deep and face your guilt and shame. Shame is the enemy and it will win unless you are aware of it and reclaim control over it.
Know Your Triggers
Everyone has triggers – those things that can bring us quickly back to a place of pain, grief and yes, shame. Recognize what your triggers are and while it may be impossible to avoid them all the time, it will help to manage them when you know they are there.
Use Guilt and Shame to Motivate Change
Feelings of guilt and shame can be defeating but when you are aware of those feelings you can use them to motivate you to find the courage to change. If shame is caused by past mistakes it can be an excellent roadmap if you will to take the steps to change past behaviors and live a better life. If there are things you need to change, find the courage to do whatever it takes and do it.
Good People Do Bad Things
In the book, “Good People Do Bad Things”, Debbie Ford shares great insight into the hidden forces that can drive human beings to commit unbelievable acts of self-sabotage and self-destruction. In truth, we are all human and we all make mistakes. Making mistakes does not mean you are not a good person and it is important to separate the two. The important lesson is to learn from your mistakes and to then find the courage to change. No one is perfect but you can strive to live your best life and do the next right thing moving forward. Remember, there is wisdom in the wounds. Your mistakes do not have to define who you are today.
Avoid Toxic People
There will be people in your life that will try to punish you and blame you repeatedly for mistakes made in the past. You cannot control what another person thinks or feels. It is important to try to make amends but in the end, there will be people who cannot forgive or let things go. If someone is continually beating you up and won’t let go of the past, it may be necessary to create a line of separation so that you can work on healing and moving on. Perception is everything and there is usually two sides to most stories.
It is never easy to forgive and it can be incredibly difficult to truly forgive ourselves. However, an inability to forgive can stand in the way of healing and moving on with our lives. It is critical that you find a way to forgive yourself if you want to gain control over the shame that is sabotaging your life. Forgiveness holds the key to healing and can free you from the past that is holding you prisoner.
Be aware of your negative thoughts and pay attention to how you talk to yourself. It is easy to focus on the negative and to beat ourselves up. Practice self-love and shift how your think about who you are. Find those things that are good within you and start to say positive affirmations about YOU every day. You are not your thoughts but they will control you if you allow them to. You are in charge of your life and you deserve to be loved. It starts with loving yourself.
Talk to Someone
In the end it can be tough to move beyond the past and if you continue to stay stuck and are carrying the weight of shame, it may be time to talk to someone. Find someone who you can trust to be open and honest with. Perhaps it is a counselor, clergy, family member or a good friend. Regardless, it is important the you can tell your story and be met with compassion and without judgement. There are resources out there if you cannot heal and move beyond the pain.
Shame is a dream stealer and if allowed, it will continue to sabotage your life and keep you stuck in dark places you no longer want to be. Frankly, it is a silent epidemic that people don’t want to talk about and try really hard to ignore. Let’s face it – shame feels awful. I am sure you can think of at least one example in your life where you felt ashamed. It is not a good feeling.
Shame will always be a part of the journey but you can reclaim your power and develop resilience to fight against shame. Learn to love ALL of who you are and remember that you are worthy and deserve to be loved and accepted. We all do.
In Peace and With Love,