Do you cringe when you hear the word “shame”? If I asked you to tell me what you are most ashamed of, would you be ready to run for the hills?
For most of us, that’s a pretty normal response. Carl Jung describes shame as “the swampland of the soul”…so why would we want to go wading around in there?
If your goal in this life is to have deep, lasting intimacy, real love, connection, and authenticity, then shame is something we’ve got to deal with.
In order to be brave, to be voluntarily vulnerable and to step into our fullest, most vibrant potential, we have got to find ways to identify, process and understand our shame and guilt.
That’s why I am so excited about this episode because, in it, I’m talking about shame and guilt and how these emotions can be shifted, honored and transformed so that they no longer negatively impact the quality of our lives.
There’s been a lot of studies done around shame, most famously, by the amazing Brené Brown. Her research has revealed shame to be an unspoken epidemic in our time…and it certainly takes a toll, both personally and in the world at large.
When we feel ashamed, it makes us want to hide from the world…and even from ourselves. What we need to understand about shame is what gives it power.
As Brown famously declared in her 2012 Ted Talk, Listening to Shame, which went viral, secrecy, silence, and judgment are the three things that keep shame in the driver’s seat of your life.
Have you ever secretly felt like you are broken in some way? That no matter what you do, there’s something wrong with you deep down, and you hope and pray that no one will find out?
Shame is so isolating because it can block intimacy. Pervasive shame is a damaging emotional state that can be linked to feeling unworthy, and that feeling can potentially keep you from ever letting yourself be truly known.
As a psychotherapist for the last 22 years, I’ve seen so much shame and guilt, and not just toxic shame (which you can read more about here), but I’ve seen how these two emotions can show up in everyday life and limit potential.
So what’s the difference between shame and guilt?
Shame and guilt are sometimes assumed to be interchangeable but they are very different.
Guilt says, “I think I DID something wrong,” and shame says,
“I think I AM something wrong.”
Shame is one of the lowest vibration emotions and if left unchecked, will do deep damage to your self-identity. Shame commonly stems from childhood experiences. Although most of us experienced things that made us feel temporary shame in childhood, toxic or chronic feelings of shame in adulthood usually originates from some kind of chronic abuse, neglect or degradation. Shame feels hopeless; like there is something fundamentally wrong with you that cannot be fixed.
Healthy guilt, on the other hand, can actually motivate us towards positive action and self-correction. It has a level of redeem-ability that shame does not. If you feel guilty you can make amends, apologize or take responsibility for your actions. In essence, redeeming yourself back to a respectable standing in your own eyes.
However, if you are someone who has trouble moving on and forgiving yourself, even when you know you made a mistake, guilt can become internalized as shame.
So what steps can you take to get out of the guilt/shame spiral?
Step 1: Mindful Breathing
Taking time to mindfully focus on your breath might not seem like a big deal, but a recent study links the regular practice of mindful breathing to an increased capacity for self-forgiveness. The results show that incorporating this into your daily routine creates more space for people to forgive themselves for anything they are holding onto. My mentor and spiritual crush, Dr. Deepak Chopra created The Breathing App with Eddie Rosen, a yogi, and it’s totally free and available for Apple & Android devices.
It’s just five minutes out of your day that I really want to encourage you to try because the first step is to create some internal space for you to make changes.
Step 2: Your Shame & Guilt Blueprint
It’s time to take a self-inventory so that you can start to better understand the things that you feel habitually guilty or ashamed of so that we can really target those and bring them up into the light. Make some time and space to follow the guided questions I’ve included for you in the cheat sheet right here, and then write it all down. Raising your awareness is essential to your healing.
Once you have your working list, the next thing to do is to take responsibility for the things and times when you did make a mistake. The shame of making a mistake or acting like a jerk can make us want to run as far away from that experience as possible, but I’m going to ask you to really think about it, to stop blaming others, and take responsibility for what you did or didn’t do in your own mind. Try to be as objective and honest as possible.
Then, make amends if possible, with one caveat. Make amends only if doing so would not cause harm to anyone else.
As you review your list and start to make amends with yourself and with others (if appropriate), what happens is you begin to normalize the things you’ve done that you are holding shame around. We begin to realize that making mistakes or behaving badly sometimes is part of the human condition and that ultimately, this is how we learn and grow.
Step 3: Talk It Out
This is an essential piece because you’re only as sick as your secrets.
Whatever it is that is creating pervasive shame for you, talking about it is vital. Part of this is that we’ve got to stop hiding it from ourselves. So much of the time we take on shame for things that are not our responsibility.
As I mentioned before, for shame to continue to thrive in adulthood secrecy, silence and judgment need to be in place. It can also be incredibly isolating as most people don’t talk about it. The antidote for shame is self-compassion and self-empathy – this is how those chains that bind you to shame are broken.
Silence is what perpetuates shame. Being in a safe situation and making a heart connection with like-minded people allows you to share and be vulnerable. You suddenly aren’t alone in it anymore and the grip that toxic shame has had on you starts to loosen.
If you have someone you can trust, ask them to witness you in sharing your self-inventory in a safe space, without judgment. If you don’t feel comfortable face to face with another, there’s a website (https://novni.com/) where you can write anonymously and be witnessed. Taking this action can be a powerful way to release it all, to honor your humanness, and to learn from your mistakes.
The antidote to shame is compassion and empathy.
Negative self-talk, the inner mean girl, or your mafia mind, also must be shut down. It is common for your inner cruel voice to be the internalized voice of someone who was constantly criticizing and judging you in childhood. That voice isn’t even yours. We have to tell that inner mean chick to sit down and shut up because you’re in charge now – not your fear mind. Self-compassion trains us to treat ourselves with the same kindness and care that we show to our good friends or a beloved child.
I’ve created a little downloadable guide for that includes the self-inventory and ways to starve shame, ways to take action, and ways to take care of yourself and move towards self-forgiveness. You can get it right here.
Forgiving yourself and moving into self-compassion is the only way that you will ever live, as Brenee would say, a wholehearted life. And don’t you want that? I know you do and I want it for you.
If this helped you in any way, please share it on your social media and with those you love. Leave me a comment and let me know what steps you’ll be taking to move towards becoming shameless!
Thank you for watching, for listening, and for sharing because you are it for me and I super appreciate you helping me spread the TC love all over the world. I really do.
I hope you have an amazing week and as always, take care of you.
Terri Cole is a licensed psychotherapist, transformation coach, and an expert at turning fear into freedom. Sign up for Terri’s weekly Newsletter, check out her blog and follow her on Twitter.