I think shame is the most destructive of all the emotions we feel. It doesn’t matter where we come from, what we look like. It’s a feeling we all experience at one time or another. The ego uses shame to convince us we don’t belong, we aren’t worthy, we’re unlovable, or that it knew we would fail.
When we feel shame, we have a powerful uneasiness. We experience feelings of insufficiency and worthlessness. Then the egoic mind adds some anger at others “who made us feel this way” or at ourselves for getting into this shameful situation.
The shame I felt not only shut me down for almost a decade, but it also developed into destructive behaviors that took another quarter of a century to overcome. My shame came from the sexual trauma I suffered as a child. It arose from the belief that I was unworthy of my mother’s love and protection. It stayed because my eleven-year-old mind didn’t know how to deal with incidents I endured. My egoic mind then used the shame to keep me in a fearful state of being for over a decade.
Most shame doesn’t come from us behaving badly. It comes from being told we’re bad, that we’re unworthy. When we accept this lie from others or our ego takes it as true, we have difficulty admitting that anything about us is good.
I spent most of my life marinating in shame. It felt like part of my genetic makeup. Shame held my head underwater and told me to resign to my fate, to stop fighting. Shame left me feeling my very personhood was flawed. ~Tara Hedman
The Difference Between Guilt And Shame
Guilt differs from shame. It’s a healthy feeling that causes us to change our behaviors. It focuses on a specific situation. We feel guilty when we look at our actions and deem them incorrect. We’re aware that our words or deeds were harmful. When we take responsibility for our unethical activities and correct them, our remorse will fade. This type of guilt is beneficial for us to experience so we can grow and become better people.
Shame, however, is toxic. It paralyzes our perception of ourselves in a negative state. It’s a black filter we see-through, which causes us to see shadows and lurking phantoms at every turn. Shame causes us to view ourselves as unworthy, unconfident, stupid, insufficient, and less than anyone else.
Those of us with over sensitivity to shame developed this behavior during our childhood. It’s the foundation for our negative feelings of self-worth and the harsh and unloving self-talk. Although we can have one traumatic experience to produce shame, it’s often a result of long-term exposure.
When a child is being corrected for a behavior to help the child learn, no shame experience occurs. But suppose the child is told that who they are is wrong or bad instead of the specific behavior. In that case, the child internalizes that they as a person are immoral or unworthy.
The difference between guilt and shame is very clear—in theory. We feel guilty for what we do. We feel shame for what we are. ~Lewis Smedes
Over-Sensitivity To Shame
Once we have believed that who we are is unworthy, then most interactions with others get viewed through this lens. We no longer look at any criticism as a way for us to improve, but as an additional confirmation of our contemptibility. This untrue validation can be further nurtured by belittling statements from others or more acidic self-talk.
We also start to believe that others are threatening us by their corrections or comments. This reaction comes out of us as anger, resentment, or irritation. It also can cause us to withdrawal from activities and others.
When my mother abandoned my sister and me on the streets of Albuquerque, New Mexico, I interpreted her actions to mean that I wasn’t worthy of her love. Then I felt ashamed that I was so bad she didn’t want me. Through the indignity I felt, I denied the hurt, sadness, and anger of her actions and wanted to protect her from the police.
Trying to escape shame is a merry-go-round of reactions to triggers that, in most instances, are benign. Still, the egoic mind keeps us so fearful that we continue the ride that takes us nowhere. We seek ways to numb ourselves through self-medication, workaholism, perfectionism, or more dangerous means. We can become confrontational and domineering to help manage our inner conflict.
Shame is a soul-eating emotion. ~Carl Gustav Jung
Awareness To See The Ego’s Control
To understand the egoic mind is lying to us, we need to become aware that the shame we developed in childhood is not a reflection of our worthiness. Becoming aware is the most challenging step because the ego is continually pointing out those things that confirm its point of view. It does this through our inner critic.
All the negative inner self-talk is the ego’s way to keep us in its control. It continually causes us to react to situations instead of examining them. If we pause and observe the circumstances instead of reacting to them, we can evaluate our options.
Become the witness of the inner critic. This perceiving means we are determining who is speaking. Is it the ego telling us lies, or is our soulful voice encouraging us to move forward? Once we determine that the egoic mind is speaking, we can evaluate if what it says is helpful or another lie. Our soul isn’t critical of us. It’s loving in its correction of our actions. If we feel bad because of an inner dialogue, we need to dismiss it and look for a better way of dealing with the situation at hand.
Your shame hides in many places-in anger, blame, denial, workaholism, perfectionism, drinking, and anything else you compulsively engage in to make yourself feel better. But if you could just learn to be vulnerable for one second and open up to the pain, you would find there’s no place left for your shame to hide. ~Adam Appleson
Learning About Our Shame
We must be brave to explore the shame we’ve worked so hard at hiding. Our courage to go within and sit with the feelings is crucial in our ability to overcome. We need to look at it with compassionate eyes. Look at ourselves as a hurt child, and we are here to help them defeat the inner fear.
See the feelings from our adult perspective, not the wounded child. As adults, our viewpoint and our coping capabilities are more advanced than when we were hurt. Therefore, we can see the situation for what it really was someone else’s negative outburst towards a defenseless child.
Now we are aware of the story the ego uses to keep us in its control. We can reframe it so it’s able to empower us to move forward. Just because I was abandoned doesn’t mean I was unlovable. It’s not a reflection of me, but my mother. I am not my story. It doesn’t define me. I am what I choose to become.
When we take control of the narrative, we can alter our self-talk. We can speak with compassion and empathy for the wounded child. Although how we speak to ourselves is a harmful habit, we are now aware. Our consciousness means we can change it.
One small crack does not mean that you are broken. It means that you were put to the test, and you didn’t fall apart. ~Linda Poindexter
Altering Our Behaviors
When we live with shame, we isolate ourselves because we feel others won’t like us. Instead of feeling rejected like we were in the past, we choose to avoid making friends altogether. We reject those who reach out to us by being overly critical and judgemental—thus pushing them away.
When we’re afraid of being our authentic selves, we hide behind masks and armor to protect ourselves. Our ego has made us falsely believe we’re unworthy as our authentic selves. That’s why it told us to be something we aren’t. Being genuine with others means trusting our soul to guide us to befriend like-minded people who become part of our tribe. It means letting go of the resistance to what is because struggling causes our suffering. Just be.
We’re used to the ego’s lies. We now need to put our faith in finding our own truth. Not what others think, but what our soul shows us to be true for us. When we get quiet and go within, we find all the answers to our inner questions. Learning to be radically honest with ourselves becomes a sacred and faithful act towards our healing.
Follow our heart. It sees the beauty and love all around us. When we’re open to receiving the love that has always been available to us, it comes, and we recognize it. Being grateful and appreciative for what we have in our lives allows the magic of flow to increase.
The way out of shame is to own it and go on being your best, showing up rather than hiding because of it. Don’t let shame own you and keep you small. ~Debra Campbell
Forgiveness Is A Part Of Healing
To overcome the shame, we must forgive ourselves for believing the lies of the ego. It’s not about making excuses but taking responsibility for the choices we made and the actions we took. Now that we’re aware, we can choose differently with more mindfulness.
We need to exonerate ourselves for perpetuating the silence of our pain, the secrecy of our traumas, and the judgment of ourselves and others. We need to be compassionate with ourselves and allow us to forgive our part in prolonging our suffering. We didn’t know of a better way to deal with our past trauma.
According to Brene Brown in her book, Gifts of Imperfection, empathy is the remedy to shame. We do this by removing the word “should” from our self-talk. When we allow our inner critic to use this word, it’s implying we weren’t enough to deal with the circumstances. It turns our focus to the past and out of the present moment.
Look for the lesson in the situation, pause, and choose to move forward. When we consciously focus on possibilities, we see opportunities, not missteps. This small shift in language allows us to empower ourselves instead of staying in shame and lies of the ego.
Even when we do wrong, accountability is helpful, compassion is helpful, apology and forgiveness are helpful, but shame is not. ~Debra Campbell
Removing The Shame We Feel
I’ve found that the best way to release shame is to acknowledge it. Otherwise, it festers. When we tell a person we trust, we are no longer silently hiding our feelings. When we put light on it, shame disintegrates because it’s no longer a secret. The secrecy of shame gives it power.
By holding onto the concealment and silence, we allow shame to eat away at our self-worth, pull us into depression, violence, and self-harming behaviors. As soon as we speak of our shame, it no longer has power, and it no longer defines us.
In sharing our feelings and our story, we find out we’re not alone. Oprah Winfrey was the first person I knew who was sexually abused as a child. I thought I was the only one. When she shared her story, it made me feel less alone. And maybe I did nothing wrong—the beginning stages of empowerment.
Know our triggers so our insecurities don’t automatically cause us to default to shame. When we recognize those situations which cause us to feel unworthy, we can stop the egoic mind from taking us down that dangerous path.
Make authentic connections with others. Our feelings of worthlessness come down to the fear of being disconnected from others. Only the ego believes we are separate. Spirit knows we’re all joined. When we authentically bond, we prove to the ego that we are worthy of love, and we learn to accept ourselves as we are.
Shame derives its power from being unspeakable. ~Brene Brown
Moving Forward Shamelessly
Shame is insidious if left unexplored. It will continue to affect us as long as we never speak of it and keep it a secret. Our inner critic will forever tell us of our unworthiness, which will keep us locked away in isolation. We will not only be ashamed but lonely and unloved. All the emotions we don’t want to feel and yet perpetuate.
Instead, let’s consciously choose to navigate our way out of the shame and loneliness. By sharing our story, we release its power to hold us from our dreams and learn we are courageous. Let’s learn to speak to ourselves with compassion. When we alter our inner dynamics, we create better relationships, and the love we desire flows freely into our lives. The authentic connections we make will show to our ego that our vulnerability is a strength.
Despite the ego’s lies that we’re broken, we’ve always been whole. When we allow our authenticity to shine from within, we feel love and peace. Those feeling we’ve always searched for outside of us has always been within us.
With everything that has happened to you, you can either feel sorry for yourself or treat what has happened as a gift. Everything is either an opportunity to grow or an obstacle to keep you from growing. You get to choose. ~Wayne W. Dyer
Do you need support to help you remove the toxic shame from your life? Do you want a strategy to help you overcome the ego’s limiting beliefs and live a successful life? If so, please reach out to me at TerriKozlowski.com, and we can put together an action plan for you to create the life you desire.
I’m so excited to announce that my book, Raven Transcending Fear, is now available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle! Check it out today, the link is in the show notes, or you can go to www.RavenTranscendingFear.com!