Each of us experiences shame.
“[I]t is part of our human condition,” writes author and therapist Darlene Lancer, LMFT, in Conquering Shame and Codependency: 8 Steps to Freeing the True You.
Without good coping skills, we may feel like failures when we don’t meet our own or others’ expectations, she writes. In fact, shame can even prevent us from being our true selves. Shame often starts in childhood. It can even get passed down from generation to generation.
Shame thrives in families where kids must keep secrets about such as issues as addiction, infidelity or poverty, to keep up appearances.
Teachers might shame kids for their academic performance. Parents might shame kids for expressing feelings such as anger or sadness.
Shame can camouflage our true self, because it can lead us to manufacture false selves, according to Lancer. These are the:
- Ideal self: “who we believe we should be”
- Persona: “what we show to others”
- Critic: “our inner shaming voice”
- Devalued self: “the result of the critic’s shaming”
For instance, if your parents or caregivers rejected or denied certain parts of your real self, you might’ve experienced shame and created an ideal self. If sadness wasn’t accepted in your family, then you might imagine being the “family hero,” a “tough kid” or a “good girl,” Lancer writes.
This ideal self provides an imagined sense of acceptance and worth. But it also alienates the real self, because, after all, it’s a false self. People may pick professions, partners and lifestyles to garner others’ approval.
Before she was a therapist, Lancer pursued a law career. “I unconsciously thought that being a lawyer would gain my parents’ respect, since they didn’t support my original career goals — one of which was to become a therapist.”
We also bend for our inner critic. We suppress our real feelings and anything else that doesn’t conform to the ideal. So we force ourselves to think different thoughts, to feel different feelings and do different things. When we inevitably don’t measure up to our ideal image, we’re stricken with shame. But as Lancer writes, “In actuality we’re expecting the impossible — to become someone other than ourselves.”
In Conquering Shame and Codependency, Lancer includes valuable and practical strategies for overcoming shame and becoming our authentic selves. She notes that “getting to know our real self is a process of uncovering and discovering.” These tips from her book can help with this process:
Check in with yourself on a daily basis.
Ask yourself what you’re feeling and what you want today. Ask yourself what you’d like for the future. Consider what your body, mind, heart and soul need. Then figure out the steps you can take to respond to these needs.
Write about your interactions.
You also can review your interactions every day. Lancer includes these additional questions to explore: “Did you ever avoid saying what you were really thinking or feeling? What kept you from doing so? Did you make decisions based on your values?”
Write about your feelings.
Be honest about what you’re feeling, and know that you can express yourself fully on the page. If you were shamed for having certain feelings — such as anger or sadness — know that any feeling you’re experiencing is valid.
Explore your values.
“Knowing our values helps us make decisions that are right for us,” writes Lancer. Look within and write down what’s important to you — not your parents, partner or anyone else.
Share your real self.
According to Lancer, being vulnerable with others creates connection, builds trust in them and ourselves and strengthens our true selves.
Share your feelings and needs with people who make you feel safe and won’t judge you. For instance, Lancer suggests attending a 12-step meeting, such as Al-Anon or Codependents Anonymous, or working with a therapist.
She also suggests starting to express your vulnerability by sharing a mistake you made with someone you trust.
Shame can stifle our true selves. By seeking supportive resources and delving into your feelings, thoughts and values, you can get to know yourself better, overcome your shame and embrace the real you.