Shame is a powerful emotion. It is something many of us will experience within our lives. Its causes can be numerous and complex – and its effects deeply pervasive.
Shame may arise as a result of actions or words spoken. It may come from trauma we’ve experienced, or from addiction or abuse. It might involve regret over the way events in our lives unfolded. It could be connected to our own choices, or to actions inflicted on us by others. The feeling of shame may come from how we view ourselves, from external judgements, or a mixture of both.
Whatever shape it takes, shame is damaging. Feeling shame goes beyond a sense of guilt – where we feel that we have done something wrong – to the belief that we ourselves, at our core, are wrong or ‘bad’. This can make us feel worthless, anxious and depressed. It can stop us from taking healthy risks and opening up to relationships. And it can exacerbate unhealthy behaviours – which may be the cause of shame in the first place – and lead to negative coping mechanisms. It can be so strong, and destructive, that it can alter the course of our lives, clouding every aspect of how we relate to ourselves and others.
Moving beyond shame
Yet shame doesn’t have to be a life sentence. Through acknowledgement, honesty, humour and self-love, we can start to unpick shame and to heal. This process involves meeting ourselves differently. Having the courage to face our shame helps to create space around it and to diminish its power over us. And by learning to love and accept ourselves, we can start to feel whole, healing the inner fragmentation that shame causes. The following resources can all help us to shift our perspective and to move beyond shame.
Shame keeps us stuck in the past, oscillating between denial and regret, and wishing things were different. This prevents us from moving forwards. We can’t change what has happened. By accepting the situation and recognising where we are right now – not where we wish we were – we equip ourselves to meet whatever we are facing in a better and healthier way.
Treat yourself with compassion
Being compassionate to ourselves is fundamental to healing shame. Remember that you did the best you could with the skills and circumstances you were dealing with at the time. We are all human, and we are all fallible. Honouring this fragility can help us to be gentler with ourselves and release the grip shame has over us.
Forgive yourself – over and over
Cultivating acceptance and compassion provides the bedrock for self-forgiveness. To move on from shame, we need to forgive ourselves – specifically, the younger or less developed parts of us that were unable to meet the situation differently in the past. This may not happen overnight. But by practising forgiveness towards ourselves over and over again, we can gradually heal and move on.
Shift your perspective
Shame distorts our perception and can become all-encompassing. Remember that you are more than your shame. Remind yourself of the many different qualities that make up who you are – and try to stay connected to moments in your life where you feel an outcome has been positive. These tools can help to right-size our perspective and allow us to view things differently.
Open up in a safe space
Shame is sometimes too much to deal with alone. Talking honestly with a mental health professional or trusted people who can support you is a valuable healing resource. We tend to conceal things we feel ashamed of, which only gives them greater hold over us and makes us feel more isolated. Airing shame in a safe space helps to lessen its charge and opens pathways for healing.
Take the lessons forward
What have your life experiences taught you? Even the most challenging of situations can teach us something and make us stronger. And we always have the power to make new choices going forwards. By applying the lessons we’ve learnt from our past we can create a healthier future. Be mindful of what you can take from an experience – and make a plan for how you wish to move forwards in your life.