Shame is an emotion that is very human, very common, and very easily recognized. It is also an emotion that has the potential to restrict and hinder your daily life and general wellbeing, and hold you back from achieving your full potential, as well as miss out on all of the wonders that life has to offer.
Learning how to let go of shame is crucial for your personal development, and will help you to move forward with strength, confidence, and plenty of self-belief.
What Is Shame?
Shame is an emotion that can arise when we look at ourselves overly critically, or are too harsh with our opinion of the way that we look, act and behave. Shame focuses on who we are as a person, and can attack our identity and our very sense of self.
In many cases, this negative perception of ourselves will arise in childhood and can be the result of criticism and personal attacks that occurred during this period – when someone attacks you, rather than your negative or unwelcome behavior, the seeds of shame can be planted.
Left unchecked, shame can have a detrimental impact on your overall life and wellbeing, leaving you feeling worthless, useless, and as though you are less of a person. Over time, you may be trapped in the destructive cycle of negative self-talk, constantly criticizing the very core of your being and identity.
In some cases, individuals suffering from shame may try their best to hide it from others – this can result in behaviors and patterns that can be extremely harmful, such as self-harm, alcohol or substance abuse, or other destructive behaviors.
There is, of course, a place for some levels of normal shame in society – this is important in helping to maintain social norms and order.
Shame helps to point out that there are certain behaviors and attitudes in society that can have a negative impact on society as a whole, and engaging in these actions and behaviors will leave you feeling shame – in this case, you are less likely to repeat the behavior.
In other words, shame can help you to “learn a lesson”, and not have any other negative consequences.
In some cases, however, shame can turn toxic – and this is where the danger lies. Shame that sticks around, continues to poke and prod and has a negative impact on the way that you see yourself can be toxic, resulting in the unwanted consequences and behaviors that we discussed previously.
Shame relates to the way that you see yourself and tend to linger even after amends or apologies have been made, or you have attempted to rectify a situation in which you were in the wrong.
It is important to take a moment to distinguish between shame and guilt – these are similar emotions, as they usually arise after you have been criticized. As an example, say that you get caught teasing a colleague, and someone tells you that you are wrong to do this, and should be ashamed of your behavior.
This scolding will result in you feeling guilty – you will feel regret for your actions, and be keen to make it up to the person that you have hurt, in order to win back their approval and show them how sorry you are.
Guilt usually arises when you make a mistake or do something that you know is wrong. It can also emerge when you know that you have caused harm to another person, whether this is intentionally, or accidentally.
You will typically feel regret for your actions, as well as a desire to right the wrong and repair any damage. Guilt also means that you are less likely to repeat the mistake in the future, as you want to avoid those negative emotions.
The issue here occurs when the guilt starts to eat away at your self-esteem and confidence, and impacts the way that you see and perceive yourself. This is when guilt tips over the line into toxic shame,
How Can I Let Go Of Shame
Now that we have taken a closer look at just what “shame” looks like, and the negative impacts that it can have on your daily life, it is important to consider the ways that you can learn how to let go of shame.
Learning to let go of shame is a crucial life skill – it is only through this act that you can move on and find peace within yourself, as well as start to view yourself in the positive, loving light that you deserve.
Below, we will go through a few essential tricks and exercises that you can use to help you let go of shame, and return to living your best life.
Identify The Source Of The Shame
In almost every case, there will be a source for your shame. In many cases, shame can occur when those around you, such as friends and family, make light of any stress, anxiety, and trauma that you have experienced in your past.
This can include what appears to be light-hearted teasing, or continuously bringing up “humorous” anecdotes of previous mistakes that you have made, accidents that you have had or incidents that have embarrassed you.
Over time, this can result in a deep-rooted sense of shame.
Identifying the reason behind your shame gives you greater power – it allows you to address the issues and motivations fully, and reduce the power that these events and emotions hold over you.
Only by getting to the bottom of the reasons for the shame can you be in a position to truly start to move forward and enjoy a sense of closure and self-forgiveness.
This is easier said than done but is a crucial element of your journey. The only way that you can heal and move forward from feelings of shame is to finally accept that you are in no way perfect. Most importantly, you also need to accept that nobody is perfect – this is a fact that applies to everyone on the planet.
Each and every human in the world makes mistakes, and has their own flaws – and these mistakes and flaws do not define who you are as a human being, or dictate your value and worth.
There is no mistake that you can make that will make you unworthy or undeserving of love and respect, and accepting this is the first step on the path to healing.
Once you accept that you are not perfect, and indeed, that there is no reason or expectation for you to be so, you will develop the calm, self-confidence, and peace of mind that helps you to recognize negative thoughts and feelings of shame as they arise – and have the tools to tackle them as they emerge.
Change Your Thought Pattern
Another crucial step to healing is to break your negative cycles and thought patterns – again, this can be tricky. Many of us who feel and experience shame end up in an endless cycle of shame, depression, substance abuse, and back to shame.
This can be a vicious circle that seems impossible to break – but you have the power to step off the treadmill. The trick to success is to change your thought pattern and remind yourself that you are entitled to happiness, that you deserve to enjoy life, and that you are taking valuable steps towards permanently banishing shame from your life.
Affirmations can be an extremely useful exercise in achieving this; statements such as “I deserve happiness”, or “I choose acceptance” can be written onto a Post-it or piece of paper, and displayed somewhere that you will see it every day; perhaps above your mirror, or beside your bed.
Every time you see the statement, say it out loud to yourself – sooner or later, you will start to believe your own words.
Learn To Forgive Yourself
Dealing with and healing from shame can be a long journey – this is not something that happens overnight. One of the hardest things that you will need to learn how to do is to forgive yourself for your mistakes – no matter how unforgivable they may appear to you.
Remember that your flaws and mistakes do not define who you are and that learning how to forgive and love yourself is a crucial part of breaking that endless cycle of shame.
Learn To Love Yourself
When you are trapped with shame, you will start to feel as though you don’t matter; that you are not a priority in your own life, that you are worthless and pointless, and that you have nothing to contribute. A key element of overcoming shame is to realize that all of these fears and assertions are incorrect and to realize the value that you have to offer the world.
Your presence is valued, as are your words, thoughts, and contributions – you just have to find the key to unlock this belief. Try a new hobby, or join an activity that you have always wanted to try – you will soon start to feel confident in your new skill.
Joining or starting something will also help you to meet new people, offering a chance to curate your circle to people who raise you up, elevate you, and believe in you – this can be an important step in your journey.
Over time, you will start to remember your own value and self-worth, and these are tools that you can use when shame starts trying to creep back into your mind and life.
Don’t Be afraid To Ask For Help
In some situations, your background and history may mean that your internalized feelings of shame are just too much for you to handle alone – this is a chance to turn and seek professional help.
There are a number of people who are trained and experienced in this area, and who can work with you to unlock the source of your shame, discuss the issues, and help you to slowly accept and love yourself again.
Remember, there is never anything wrong in asking for help – and there is plenty of it out there.
Dealing with shame can be tricky, and this is a shadow that can cast a darkness over your overall life and wellbeing.
The good news is that there is support, guidance, and assistance available and that you can learn how to handle your shame, work through the pain, and emerge as a happy, confident and self-assured individual – it is time to unlock your very best self.