How to Reduce the Effects of Shame (Part 1)

In this three-part series, I’m going to explain how you can reduce the effects of shame in your life. In this first article, I’ll describe shame and we’ll start exploring some of  its debilitating effects on our lives.

In the next article, we’ll take a look at how we came to have so much shame. In the last article, I’ll help you discover ways to reduce shame that work for you.

Let’s begin.

 Shame. Sometimes just the word is enough to trigger shame, to make your cheeks flush and your eyes look down at the ground.

Shame. It’s what keeps you from speaking up or telling someone trusted about the time you were raped, or even about the time you won an important award.

Shame: It disguises itself as the “inner critic” or “gremlin”, that perfectly reasonable voice that keeps you from making a fool of yourself. Except that voice is really your shame saying, “Don’t be too big” and “You’re not good enough.”

Shame: It keeps you from admitting a mistake or asking for help.

Shame: It says, “I didn’t just make a mistake, I AM a mistake!”

Shame: It says, “Don’t show any sign of weakness!”

Shame: It lives in your body, ready to spring at any moment.

Shame: It thrives in secrecy, silence and judgment.

Usually, we can only consider our shame in small bite-sized chunks before we become overwhelmed and have to flee into a pan full of brownies, a slug of alcohol or a vicious game of “Kill the Zombies Before They Kill You.” So, in this series of articles, I am going to explore shame, a little bit at a time, and encourage you do to the same.

Let’s start with this: How does shame affect you and your life?

I’ll start with two examples. First, I have a hard time admitting I made a mistake. I feel ashamed of myself for not being perfect. The result is that I have to hide who and what I am, and it creates friction in my relationships as I dance around what really happened. I find it hard to ask for help because I don’t want to admit I don’t know how to do something, thus leading to more mistakes.

My second example is this: My shame keeps me from taking risks. What if I don’t do it perfectly? What if people don’t like what I’ve done? Better to not try than to fail. Even writing this blog has been difficult for me. Am I doing it right? Will anybody want to read it? Now, I know this is poppycock, and I still have to tell myself that what I have to say or do is valuable and that even if people don’t respond to it, I’ll be okay. This reminds me of the wisdom my body gave me as I started writing these blogs – write only from your heart what will help and touch the heart of others! This is a true antidote to shame.

I believe my two examples of shame (there are many more!) are very common for women. We have been taught to be perfect, and if we can’t be perfect just don’t show up. In her TED Talk, Listening to Shame, Dr. Brene′ Brown asserts that women’s shame organizes itself around having to do it all and do it all perfectly, while men’s shame organizes around not appearing to be weak. Both types of shame are debilitating and keep us from being fully human and fully magnificent.

Now, it’s your turn. How does shame show up in your life? How does it keep you small? How does shame affect your relationships? An honest, open look at any situation or condition is the first step in change. Take a courageous look at your shame. Nothing diminishes shame faster than speaking it out loud.

As always, share as little or as much as you like, although this time I really encourage you to name your shame so you can take away some of its power over you.

Befriend your body and live your most magnificent life!