Shame ingrains itself into our being. It doesn’t repair quickly, but the benefits of nullifying the effects of shame are worth the effort. Because this is not an easy road, it is recommended that you have a support system in place including a professional such as a counsellor.
Shame is very much internalised. We have spent our lifetimes pushing this shame down trying to keep it in our metaphoric basement. To start healing our shame, it must be brought out into the open, and this will involve pain. The very reason that we push our shame down is to avoid the pain that comes with it.
How to Externalise shame
Shame causes us to overreact to things that happen in our lives as these events trigger painful and shameful memories which can lead to reactions of anger and despair. By making a record of what is going on in these overreaction situations, we can determine the underlying shame.
Since the overreaction is the result of the circumstances hitting a nerve and intensifying our shame, the following information will help us to understand the triggers and work back to what the shame is comprised off.
Make a record of
What was said
Who was present
What did the situation remind you of
What was your reaction
By writing these down, you are giving voice to your feelings rather than pushing them down. As you externalise your shame through writing, you become more aware of how often it is happening and when. This awareness is knowledge and power.
You cannot change what you do not know. You can only change what you are aware of. By writing things down, you are giving form to them, and once you see them for what they are, they lose power.
Have a Conversation with Yourself
We are sure that you have at times thought that to have a decent conversation you need to talk to yourself. Well here is your opportunity. The purpose of this exercise is to distinguish between your voice and the voice of shame.
To do this exercise, you need to find a place that you can be by yourself. Close your eyes and imagine that you are standing in front of yourself. Now here comes the challenging part. Out aloud, start to criticise yourself. Let it out, what do you dislike about yourself. If this seems weird, you are merely verbalising the negative thoughts that you have every day.
Now it’s time to defend yourself. What can you say in response to the voice of criticism? How are you feeling? Put a voice to these feelings.
Switchback and forth between criticising and defending.
What is coming up over and over again? What are your earliest memories of these criticisms? Where did they come from?
Defending voice is your true feelings about yourself. The criticising voice is the voice of shame. The power of shame only exists when you are unaware of it. Shame’s power decreases once you expose it.
Address Shaming Beliefs
The beliefs that are behind shame often include the word “should” as in “you should do something.”
The implied meaning is that not doing it is shameful. Ask yourself why? What do I believe that make me think that I “should” and if I don’t I’m doing something wrong. These beliefs may be right for somebody else but are they right for you?
Shame makes you assume what others think of you because you take things personally and believe the worst. Because you feel bad about yourself, you will tend to catastrophize and overreact to things and see the worst for your future.
Shame based thinking equals distorted reasoning. Challenge your thinking with logical questioning. Ask yourself “Is this really true?” If catastrophizing ask yourself “what is the most likely outcome?”
If you are assuming what somebody’s actions mean, then ask yourself “What else could it mean?”
Dealing with Mistakes
Shame makes us believe that making a mistake is unforgivable. Trying to please everyone through performance leads to perfectionism. The fear of making a mistake is one of the major concerns associated with perfectionism. In the mind of a perfectionist, any wrong choice will end in a catastrophe.
The question to ask yourself is “Will this really be a disaster if I make a mistake?” Often the outcome of a mistake is not as bad as we imagine and mistakes can be a learning experience if we are open to the lesson.
When making decisions that have a possible adverse outcome, it is helpful to decide what the worst possible outcome is and then choose whether you can live with it if it happens. If the answer is yes, you can make the decision to move forward.
Internalizing Positive Affirmations
Shame is internalised, and so far we have been working to externalise shame. In this exercise, we will be learning to internalise statements that will have a beneficial effect on our lives.
Firstly choose the statement that you want to internalise. The most valid statement can be determined by looking back at the exercise where you criticised yourself.
What criticism came up over and over again. To create the positive affirmation reverse the criticism. For example, it the criticism was “I am worthless” the positive affirmation would be “I have value.”
Now that you have the affirmation write it down in the format “I (Your Name) have value.” When you write this the first time, you will have an emotional reaction. If you don’t, you have the wrong affirmation. Now note the feeling and stay with it.
Let it express itself and wait for it to start to decrease in intensity. When it does write the affirmation again.
Repeat the process until it becomes easy because the emotional reaction is no longer happening. Now repeat the process using the following formats.
Change the “I” in the affirmation to “You.”
Change the “I” to “she/he”
Do this exercise twice daily for at least 21 days which is the amount of time required to integrate new beliefs into your subconscious.
Create Your New Family
Your original family instilled shame into you. You need to create a family that will instil a sense of belonging and a sense of value into you. You need to surround yourself with people who think and demonstrate that you are lovable and valued and who will support you despite the actions that you take.
Replace shame with grown-up guilt.
Guilt is a feeling of responsibility or remorse for some wrong, whether real or imagined.
Grown-up guilt lets you know what is unacceptable giving you the chance to correct it. In comparison shame is so impeded that you cannot define it, and you are left feeling that you cannot do anything about it. That is why it is so important to externalise shame so it can be defined and you can see what to do about it.
Grown-up guilt tells us where we are truly underperforming and motivates us to improve.
Shame is not your fault
Most of your experiences that ended in you taking on shame happened to you as a child. Your underlying feelings of worthlessness, occurred before you had the ability to choose what you let in.
Families have the unfortunate habit of making you ashamed to motive you to behave how they wanted. As a result, you ended up making you feel bad about yourself and ashamed of who you were.
While you could only react then, you now have the power to change your association with the events that occurred in the past. The secret lies in not ignoring or burying those experiences and feelings but to face them, experience the emotions and incorporate those experiences into who you are.
They are painful memories that only have the power that we give them. If you take the time to evaluate them from the perspective of an adult, you have the ability to see correctly the situations for what they were. In doing so, you lessen their power over you.
Exercises are based on the book, John Bradshaw’s Healing the Shame that Binds You.