Shame is the most disturbing experience individuals ever have about themselves; no other emotion feels more deeply disturbing because, in the moment of shame, the self – feels wounded from within. ~ Gershen Kaufman ~
Guilt and shame are often used interchangeably and although they are often related, it’s important to understand there is a significant difference between the two. In the words of shame and vulnerability research professor Dr. Brené Brown, “The difference between shame and guilt is the difference between ‘I am bad’ and ‘I did something bad.'”
Guilt is a feeling signal to an action. Think of it as your inner alarm or warning system. It’s an emotion you feel when you have violated your own beliefs and values. It’s normal and healthy to have feelings of guilt (conviction) when you do (or think of doing) something you believe is wrong. God (Spirit) brings conviction as a motivation for change. Guilt is not the goal. Change is the goal. Once the change is made, you can receive forgiveness, forgive yourself and release the feelings of guilt. Keep the lesson – Lose the guilt.
Shame is a judgment about self. It is feeling disgraced about who you are. Of all the negative human emotions, shame is the most intense and probably the most painful. It’s a full-on, major attack against the very core of your identity. It is self-rejection, self-hate, and self-condemnation amplified 10 times. Shame is behind the accusing voice inside your head that says, “I’m worthless. I can’t talk about it. It’s too late for me. If they really knew me, they would be disgusted. I’m no good. …”
The list goes on and as long as you’re caught up in shame, you can’t hear the truth which is: You are NOT bad or broken. You are worthy of love and acceptance. You are whole, perfect and complete just as you are, right now in this moment. You are wonderfully and fearfully made, in the image and likeness of God and you are wholly loved.
“Shame derives its power from being unspeakable.” ~ Brené Brown ~
Here are 5 ways to begin healing your shame:
1. Practice self-love and self-compassion
How you treat yourself is the most important factor in overcoming shame. Self-compassion is acknowledging your pain, accepting your faults and responding to yourself with care and kindness. It means giving your self the same love and compassion you would give a loved one or friend. Here are a few ways to get started:
- Accept yourself, imperfections and all. You’re human and you make mistakes just like everyone else. What you did does not define who you are. Give yourself permission to move on.
- Practice Forgiveness. Be willing to forgive yourself and everyone else.
- Be kind to yourself. Learn to be as loving and gentle with yourself as you would a small child.
- Be grateful. Gratitude is like a magnet. When you feel and show gratitude for what you already have, the more you’ll receive to be grateful for.
- Smile. Seriously, try it right now. Smiling gives you an instant lift.
- Focus on what you love about yourself.
2. Talk to someone
Shame thrives in secrecy and prefers to hide in the shadows while keeping you feeling separate and alienated from God, from yourself and other people. It does not want to be exposed or examined, but bringing shame out of hiding will allow you to heal. Shame and vulnerability researcher, Dr. Brené Brown explains, “The less we talk about shame, the more power it has over our lives.”
Talking to someone you trust may be one of the fastest ways to free yourself from the grips of this toxic emotion. Talk to someone with whom you feel safe and pour out your heart, your pain, anxiety, and fear. That person could be a friend, therapist, coach, counselor – someone who will listen in a non-judgmental and supportive way; someone who can help you look at things objectively and help you to understand or evaluate what happened.
“The heartfelt prayer of a righteous person can accomplish much – it is dynamic and can have tremendous power.” (see James 5:16) God loves, forgives and accepts you. He is not angry or disappointed with you and He wants your spiritual and emotional wholeness even more than you do. You do not have to carry the burden of shame. Jesus already took care of that on the cross. Recognizing who you are in Christ will transform your life for good. Give all of your pain and your shame to Him and trust Him to heal you. “Greater is He that is within you than he that is in the world.”
Keep my soul and deliver me; Let me not be ashamed, for I put my trust in you. Psalms 25:20
The benefits of meditation are numerous and well documented. Here is a simple but very effective healing meditation you can begin with. It can be done in as little as 5 minutes or extended for as long as you wish.
Sit in a comfortable position. Take 3-4 deep breaths to get centered. Place your hand on your heart and continue to breathe gently and deeply. Imagine each breath is flowing into, through and out of your heart area. Focus on breathing in love and a sense of peace. Notice the sensations in your body as you breathe in and out: Feel the warmth, trust, and love flowing into your heart and spreading throughout your entire body. Notice how calm and joyful you are becoming. When that feeling of unconditional love is steady, simply bathe in the feeling, letting it wash over you for 30 seconds.
Writing is cathartic. A healing journal is a great way to process your feelings. While there is no one-size-fits-all remedy for healing from emotional wounds, journaling is an excellent tool that is always available to you. Studies have repeatedly shown that writing can help you heal. I have been writing my thoughts, feelings, desires, pains, and pleasures since I was a child. Writing has helped me heal from painful emotions and traumatic events in my past. Whether in articles like this one for Taylor Cares or by journaling my feelings and thoughts, writing has always helped me gain clarity and insight.
“Write hard and clear about what hurts. Don’t avoid it. It has all the energy. Don’t worry, no one ever died of it. You might cry or laugh, but not die.” ~ Ernest Hemingway ~
How about you?
Are you dealing with shame? Have you discovered how to overcome it? I’d love to hear from you.