Life is not one universal experience for us all. Many of us don’t want to live according to the map we’ve been prescribed. But it can be dangerous and unsafe to stray from the flock. Shame may occur due to something that’s happened to us, and it will likely affect those who don’t follow the herd. But is it better to betray ourselves and our authenticity to stay in the community’s safety?
Don’t let shame control your happiness. If we let it, shame will depower us and grind us to a stop. But when we are educated and prepared, we can learn to deal with feelings of shame that arise and bat them away like an expert. That way, we can let go of shame and continue to be our authentic selves.
This article will discuss what shame is and how it impacts our health. We will suggest five tips for how to let go of shame.
What is shame exactly?
Brené Brown is a research professor in Houston. She is renowned for her work studying shame. She defines shame as:
The intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging - something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection.
Shame invariably differs between cultures. Societal norms and social expectations are a huge part of inducing shame.
Honor and respect are sometimes deemed the greatest virtue in some cultures. And when these are compromised, shame is brought upon the family. We may feel shame for not fitting into a mold that is expected of us.
Shame comes in many forms.
A child who disappoints their parents may be shamed for their behavior. This shaming may even continue into adult life.
Guilt differs from shame in that it surrounds itself more with something we have done or failed to do. Therefore, guilt is about action or inaction, and shame is about being.
But no one should be shamed for being themselves.
Shame can also occur through negative experiences. According to this article, shame can result from any number of experiences including, but not limited to:
- Being the victim of a crime.
- Experiencing abuse.
- Experiencing hostile or harsh parenting.
- Being raised by a parent with addiction issues.
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The health implications of shame
How often have you heard the expression, “you should be ashamed of yourself”?
Shame involves judgment from others. We may feel shame when we go against what we understand to be the norm. Interestingly, we only need to imagine the disapproval of another to feel shame.
According to this article in Scientific America, we are more likely to experience shame if we have low self-esteem. People who are prone to experiencing shame are also more susceptible to other psychological issues, such as depression.
This article on health-related shame stresses the importance of shame as a matter of public health. Its research concludes that shame can lead to:
- Poor health.
- Our relationship with our health.
At its most severe, shame can contribute to the tragic circumstances of suicide.
5 ways to let go of shame
We may feel shame when we don’t conform to societal norms. But if we conform to societal norms, we lose our authenticity and risk sacrificing ourselves.
Here are our top 5 tips for letting go of shame.
1. Identify the source of shame
If we have all the physical and mental feelings of shame but don’t quite know the cause, we have some work to do.
Shame makes us feel like we are fundamentally flawed. Our culture or social norms may tell us we have acted improperly, dishonorably, or immorally.
Without knowing the source of the shame, we can’t overcome its grip on us.
I carry with me a pervasive sense of shame just for being myself. As a child, I was expected to be more like my sister. I was ridiculed for what I did or didn’t know.
“I can’t believe you don’t know how to change a tire,” said the man, whose job was probably to show me. But he placed the shame at my feet, along with many other criticisms.
When you know the source of your shame, you can gradually work to unpick this. Whether you work on this yourself or enlist the help of a therapist is a personal decision. The important thing is you recognize the source.
2. Learn to find acceptance
Acceptance is a beautiful thing.
When we accept who we are, we no longer feel nausea and deep unworthiness associated with shame.
It takes guts and courage to come out as yourself in a world that tries to restrain us into a standard mold. For instance, everyone in the LGBTQUIA+ community has had to accept who they are and then learn to love themselves. It’s an ongoing process for all of us who have endured shame. But until we accept ourselves, we will struggle to love ourselves.
Many people have shamed me for not wanting children. Instead of wishing things were different, I accepted this about myself. I celebrate this about myself. By accepting who I am and what I yearn for, I am no longer fighting against it. And nor can it be used as a weapon against me. I’m reclaiming being different and not fitting in with society.
If you need more help on this topic, here's our article on how to accept yourself.
3. Heal with likeminded people
Often shame makes us feel like we are the only person to feel the way we do. This feeling can be isolating and power-zapping.
Look for groups of like-minded people. Consider the power of Alcoholics Anonymous in bringing people together. Group therapy helps us feel less alone.
I’ve worked with several groups dedicated to women who don’t have children either by choice or circumstances. The power of the group to raise others up and instill confidence and self-worth never ceases to amaze me.
Maybe it’s a safety-in-numbers thing. But being around people with similar experiences helps us feel more accepting and “normal,” which encourages us to release our shame.
4. Redirect your thought patterns
In all cases of shame, we must recognize patterns and learn to redirect our thoughts.
Yes, I felt ashamed for a long time that I couldn’t change a car tire! But I now recognize that this was not my shame to carry! Shame on the person who ridiculed me and failed to teach me!
Consider victims of sexual abuse who often feel shame. Their thoughts may center on what they consider their own failings, which they believe led to their abuse. It can be difficult for victims to accept that what happened to them was not their fault. But this shame should lie at the feet of the perpetrator!
Learning not to appoint the blame on ourselves is a vital step in letting go of shame.
5. Wake up to outside influences
If it weren’t for outside influences putting their judgments and opinions into our life, shame wouldn’t be as prevalent as it is today.
A recent tweet I read said, “don’t take productivity advice from people without kids.” While the intention may not have been to shame, this carries a shaming effect for some people without kids. It is othering and demeaning.
If we want to be able to let go of shame, we need to make sure outside influences can’t penetrate our armor. We must learn whose opinion to take on and whose to let slide.
People who resort to manipulation and coercion to control you will use shame as a weapon! Be prepared to recognize when outside influences are trying to shame you into something you don’t want to do!
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Pervasive shame is insidious and damaging. If we allow shame to fester inside of us, it can compromise our health and happiness. Remember, you should never feel ashamed for being yourself.
Now I want to hear from you! Do you have any tips for how you can let go of shame? I'd love to read your comments below!