Defining Shame, Its Impact, and Ways to Overcome It
Let’s talk about the most universal and yet deeply personal emotion we all experience: Shame.
Shame can feel like an invisible weight, burdening our hearts and stifling our potential. It whispers in our ears and tells us we’re not good enough, we’re unworthy of love, or incapable of overcoming our past mistakes.
Each of us is working through some form of shame. After years of self-deprecating behaviors due to my shame, I finally started challenging the beliefs that have limited my self-expression, hindered my growth, and prevented me from fully embracing self-worth. Nurturing a deep understanding of shame and how it impacted me allowed me to cultivate a sense of self-compassion I didn’t have.
And now, I am creating a safe and supportive space for you to unpack the layers of shame that have held you back. I want you to heal, boost your breakthrough moment, and rewrite the narratives that have held you captive for far too long.
Processing shame is essential for personal growth, emotional well-being, and building healthier relationships. So, let’s start with the basics.
What is Shame?
Shame is a heavy emotional burden that can have a profound impact on our lives. It’s like this nagging voice in our heads, constantly reminding us that we’re not good enough. Shame convinces us we’re fundamentally flawed and undeserving of love and acceptance—both from ourselves and others. It’s a punch to our self-esteem, leading to self-criticism, self-isolation, and a sense of hopelessness. Shame hangs like a pervasive cloud over us when we feel like we’ve fallen short of expectations—whether they’re society’s standards or our own personal ideals.
When we experience shame, it brings up feelings of diminished self-worth, a fear of judgment or rejection by others, and an overwhelming desire to hide away from the world. Identifying and addressing the underlying feelings associated with shame will help us get to the root of this trauma response and gain the awareness needed to overcome its negative effects.
How is Shame Different from Guilt?
Guilt and shame are two distinct emotions. Guilt is the feeling you experience when you focus on a specific action or behavior—the wrongdoing itself. You feel responsible for what happened and recognize the situation as you being someone who made a mistake. Shame, on the other hand, is more internal. It goes beyond the action itself and becomes more about the way we see our failures and inadequacies as believing we’re inherently unworthy or not good enough.
How Does Shame Impact the Body?
Many people don’t realize the detrimental effect shame can have on our physical and mental well-being. It doesn’t just lower our self-esteem and erode our sense of self-worth. Persistent shameful feelings can lead to chronic stress, anxiety, and even depression.
When we’re experiencing shame, our stress hormones are activating our fight-or-flight responses. This increases our heart rate, elevates our blood pressure, tenses our muscles, and weakens our immune system. Hyper focusing on the negative thoughts and feelings associated with shame can disrupt our sleep, impact our gut and digestive health, and even cause cardiovascular issues. It also lowers our motivation to take positive actions in our lives.
How Can You Work Through Shame?
By beginning the process of working through our shame, we allow ourselves to heal, grow, and thrive. We get to face all the negative beliefs we hold about ourselves, bring love and compassion to them, and develop a healthier self-perception. It’s a personal and transformative journey that requires action and attention.
To move forward and release shameful feelings, we must get committed to the inner work. We’ll need patience. We’ll need to get real about the fact that the journey will come with setbacks. But by consistently practicing some of these approaches, we can gradually release the grip of shame and develop a greater sense of self-worth.
Identify Your Triggers
Identify the circumstances or triggers that lead to shame, and examine the thoughts and beliefs associated with them. Take the time to reflect on the origin of your shame and the specific triggers that might intensify those feelings. Apply more intentional thoughts by consciously choosing empowering ones that challenge those shame-based narratives keeping you stuck. Engage in deliberate actions aligned with self-compassion and growth so you can reinforce positive changes.
Vulnerability is about the willingness to be open and emotionally exposed, even if you’re feeling uncertain or like you might be judged. It’s about allowing yourself to be seen and heard, embracing your imperfections, and getting willing to share your true thoughts and feelings with others. Shame thrives in secrecy, silence, and isolation. When you express your experiences and emotions openly, you’re already breaking the cycle associated with shame and moving toward personal growth and authenticity.
Challenge Negative Thoughts
Challenge your negative thoughts associated with shame. When you notice self-critical or self-deprecating thoughts, question how true they are and replace them with more compassionate and realistic perspectives. Reframe your thoughts by focusing on evidence that goes against your shame-based beliefs and affirm your worthiness. Try writing down your shame-inducing situations and coming up with alternative interpretations to the ones you’re used to. This will help you shift your mindset.
Treat yourself with the same kindness and understanding you would offer a friend. Practice self-acceptance and remind yourself that imperfections are part of being human. We tend to be our harshest critics, but if we can turn those critiques into affirmations, we offer ourselves the chance to trust ourselves, believe in ourselves, and put faith in our abilities. Use self-soothing techniques like positive self-talk, mindfulness, and self-care to nurture and support your relationship with yourself.
Seek Support and Connection
Engage with a coach or support groups to receive guidance and validation in overcoming shame. The supportive and non-judgmental environment can provide a safe space to explore your shame, gain new insights, and receive guidance on implementing techniques that can be beneficial to your growth. Despite my being a coach, I often turn to the support of other coaches when I feel I’m struggling to have a breakthrough on my own. Connecting with others who have experienced similar struggles can offer a sense of belonging and remind you you’re not alone.
Dealing with my shame has been the clearest indication of the way I’ve allowed my past experiences to diminish my self-perception. I have yet to reach my weight loss goals despite knowing what I need to do. When I stay in a space of shame over that, it prevents me from doing certain activities and going to certain events because I don’t feel confident enough. It makes me feel shameful to call myself a coach knowing I haven’t jumped this hurdle yet.
But I’m only human, and I know working through that shame empowers me to break free from the cycle of self-criticism and self-sabotage. It opens the door to self-acceptance, authenticity, and meaningful connections with others. It is one of the most courageous steps towards reclaiming my power, embracing my inherent worthiness, and living a more fulfilling and joyful life.
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