Shame really should be on the list of deadly diseases. It may not actually murder a physical body, but it has the capacity to barrage the soul to the point of psychological imprisonment. It attacks our sense of self-worth and destroys our ability to be fully alive.
If it were actually effective, I would wholeheartedly join you in your strike against shame, holding signs to keep it out of the psyche and saying, “Shame on you, shame.” But from my experience, it usually just grows into an angry beast. It haunts us day and night until we do something about it.
Pushing away the shame isn’t the answer. So what is?
Sharing the shame with a trusted person is what will heal us.
Think of a time when you have felt shame. Maybe the shame is associated with a word, a fantasy or thought, or an action. Here are some:
- “I put on a good facade, as if I have everything together. But I break down and cry when no one is around.”
- “I am broke.”
- “I think about cheating on my husband.”
- “I have cheated on my husband.”
- “I am married to a woman but I am more attracted to men.”
- “I have a mental illness.”
- “I was abused as a child.”
- “I am a battered woman.”
- “I hate the way I look.”
- “I hate my kids sometimes.”
- “I cheat to get good grades in school.”
- “I got fired.”
- “I lied about my age.”
- “I dropped out of school.”
- “My family was on welfare.”
- “I have STDs.”
- “I have AIDS.”
- “I prostituted for money.”
- “I used to steal when I was a kid. I still do.”
- “I have an addiction.”
- “I take medication for my depression.”
- “I dream big but I am lazy.”
If you keep shame inside, it will produce a heavy sensation in your body. But notice what happens when you share it with someone you trust, someone who will not judge you. Most likely, it will be embarrassing at first. But once you share that same story over and over again, the shame will be able to go through transformation.
Ultimately, the shame will no longer have the same power over you. Eventually, you will be able to look back and say to yourself, “I can’t believe that I was so ashamed about that.”
Try using imagery to help you. Imagine shame to be a baby who just looks terrified on the outside but frightened on the inside, sucking on her thumb. Be curious about what this baby is so terrified about. Move toward it and ask it what it needs. Hold it in your arms with great care, curiosity and empathy.
When you give shame attention, you free yourself from being held in captivity. You will be able to feel joy again and walk with confidence. It is the act of letting yourself be who you are that frees you from the pain associated with shame. It is also an ingredient for healthy self-esteem. You will eventually learn that you aren’t such a bad person after all.