Have you ever experienced feelings of shame and guilt in your life?
I have. But, hey, we don’t talk about embarrassing situations because we believe that something is wrong with us. We fear if we let other people know about them, they might stop loving or respecting us.
Shame is an unpleasant emotion to feel, yet every human on this planet experiences shame. So why don’t talk about it?
Brene Brown says that shame cannot survive when it’s exposed. So, I did a little experiment and started openly talking about my shame story. Guess what? I’ve got compassionate looks saying, “Girl, I’ve been there. And it sucks.”
Phew, that made me feel normal.
You can’t tell everyone about your shame story, but you can build shame resilience.
My wish for you is that by the end of reading this blog post, you will know how to build shame resilience for yourself.
Why do we experience shame?
Since childhood, we need to feel loved, accepted and to belong. Shame comes from the desire to be loved.
Who doesn’t want to be loved and accepted?
When we feel shame, we believe that something is fundamentally wrong with us and that we are not loveable. Shame feels like our survival is jeopardised, which causes intense emotional pain in our chest.
Did you know that shame is unproductive and paralyses you? That’s why you are incapable of effective action.
Hiding shame keeps it alive. Talking about it – it can’t survive.
What is the difference between shame and guilt?
I know many professional women with imposter syndrome feel shame around their work. They believe they are not competent enough. If they make a mistake or mess things up, they often experience shame attacks which make them feel even more lonely and isolated. But shame doesn’t visit women only at work. It likes to sneak into all walks of life.
Shame says, ‘I’m bad. Something is wrong with me.”
Guilt says. “I did something wrong.”
The same is the feeling about ourselves. Guilt is the feeling about our behaviour.
Overcome shame with these 5 steps
These steps I use every time shame visits me. I call it a Shame Meditation. I hope it will be as helpful and soothing for you as it is for me.
1. Find a shameful situation
Chose an event that caused you to feel shame in the past. You might have said something stupid in front of your boss. You might have had a zipper open at the important meeting. Something that you would not like others to know. Close your eyes and feel the shame.
2. Uncover core beliefs
Reflect on what it is that you don’t want other people to know about you. Perhaps, “I’m stupid.”, “I’m incapable.”, “I’m not confident.” Name the core negative belief.
3. Be mindful of shame in your body
Expand your awareness of your body and scan the body where you feel shame. Notice how shame feels. If it’s too upsetting, take care of yourself and stop the exercise.
4. Soften and allow shame
Now, soften the muscles in your body where you feel shame. You don’t try to change the feeling; you want to soften the muscles in your body. You can put your hands over your heart to soothe yourself. Say some comforting words, “I’m so sorry that you feel shame. It’s painful. I love you, and I’m here for you.”
Allow discomfort to be there. Release the need to make anything go away.
5. Transform shame into self-love
Imagine a gold string that goes from your spine into the centre of the earth. Imagine how shame is going down the string into the earth and transforming into self-love. Now feel how self-love is coming up the string into your body. Feel it. If you can’t feel it, that’s okay. Accept it.
Related blog post: The Beginner’s Guide to Self-Compassion
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We are conditioned not to talk about shame. But as I said at the beginning, shame cannot survive if you talk about it. It thrives in silence.
Remember that shame is a universal emotion, and everyone feels it (and hides it). The more you hide it from others and yourself, the lonelier and more isolated you will feel.
So, if you have a loving friend with a compassionate ear, talk to her/him about your shameful experience. You will feel so much better.
If you don’t have such a darling friend or she/he is not available at that moment to do the Shame Meditation. That way, you are building shame resilience, an inner resource you can always rely on.
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