“If you put shame in a petri dish, it needs three ingredients to grow exponentially: secrecy, silence, and judgment. If you put the same amount of shame in the petri dish and douse it with empathy, it can’t survive.” ~Brené Brown
Did you know that one of the biggest causes of suffering is unacknowledged shame? It makes us believe that there’s something wrong with us and we’re not good enough.
When we have deep shame inside, instead of being true to ourselves, we “dress to impress” so others will like us, which eventually makes us tired, depressed, and anxious because we’ve become disconnected from our true essence.
Having shame isn’t the issue; the real issue is resisting or trying to cover it up. The more we try to keep shame hidden, the more we live in limitation and self-protection and experience stress in our system.
We may experience self-hate and a constant critical inner voice. Those parts of us don’t want to be suppressed, forced to change, or told they’re bad or wrong; they want to be seen, heard, and embraced in unconditional acceptance and love.
Many of us try to hide our shame because we don’t want to feel that deep pain. And if people look at us in a weird way, criticize, judge, or leave us, then what? We’ll be all alone. Well, that may not be true, but that’s what we may have experienced in the past, and we fear it happening again.
We may want a new relationship and to be intimate, but a part of us may push it away because we’re afraid that they’ll see that we’re not perfect human beings and leave. Then that would re-affirm the false belief that we’re unlovable or unworthy.
We may want to share our creativity and/or express ourselves in some way, but we’ve been shamed for doing so in the past, so we stop ourselves because we don’t want to be hurt again.
We may want to do inner healing, but if we do, we’ll get in touch with the parts of us that are hurting, and feeling those feelings may seem overwhelming because we’re used to suppressing them and they’re attached to past pains or traumas.
Some of us were shamed for making a mistake in the past, even though making mistakes is part of learning. When we fear making mistakes, we tend to self-sabotage or procrastinate.
Sometimes we use food, drugs, alcohol, or being busy to try to numb and get away from our painful and shameful feelings.
Sometimes shame manifests as chronic fatigue, self-criticism, depression, low self-esteem or painful sensations in our body. We may feel self-conscious, anxious, and insecure and have a hard time speaking up or receiving gifts and compliments because we don’t feel worthy of them.
So what is shame really? It makes us believe that we’re bad, wrong, unlovable, or unworthy. Those ideas stem from not meeting other people’s expectations of how we should be, or from experiences that made us feel embarrassed.
Because we didn’t know how to cope with or process our feelings at the time, we developed a negative lens through which we now see ourselves and others that dictates what we do and don’t do.
If we were shamed for or felt shame about something as children, we usually try to find a way to compensate for it as adults. What do I mean?
As a child, I was teased for being fat and ugly, and I blamed my body for me not having any friends and for my father criticizing and teasing me.
At age thirteen, my doctor told me to go on a diet. When I lost weight I received compliments and recognition; however, I took it to the extreme, and at age fifteen I became a severe anorexic. No matter how many therapists or treatment centers I went to (which were numerous), I wouldn’t let go of the disordered eating behaviors that I thought kept me safe.
I developed survival strategies, exercising non-stop and eating very little, so I would never be fat and teased again. However, as much as I tried to protect myself from the shame of being fat, I was now being shamed for how and what I ate and what my body looked like.
My father told me he was embarrassed to be seen with me, and I was made fun of, criticized, and judged from people on the street, the therapists I was seeing, and the those in charge in the treatment centers I was in.
So, in a sense, I was being shamed for trying to cope, feel safe, and survive.
At age fifteen I became obsessed with money to try to compensate for the powerless, shameful feelings I was having.
Money gave me a fleeting, false sense of power and worthiness. If I wasn’t working and earning money, I felt like a horrible person.
I was trying to hide my deep shame and feel worthy, valuable, lovable, and safe by controlling my food and weight and how much money I made and saved, but none of that ever made me truly feel okay or healed my deep pain and shame. Deep inside, I was still experiencing depression, anxiety, a critical voice, and self-hate, and I was acting in self-harming and self-depriving ways.
When people used to say to me, “Debra, you just need to love yourself,” I thought, “Yeah right, what does that even mean? I don’t deserve to be loved and cared for. I’m bad. I deserve to suffer, to be punished, criticized, and deprived, and to struggle in life.”
This is what unresolved shame does. It creates a shame-based identity. It runs our subconscious programming, disconnects us from our authenticity, and makes us believe that there’s something wrong with us—that we’re unworthy, unlovable, and not good enough.
We don’t stop loving the ones who shamed and hurt us; we stop loving ourselves, and we start treating ourselves in the same ways they did. The external rejection becomes our own internal rejection.
It may be helpful to understand that people who blame, shame, or criticize us are also hurting and have deep wounds that make them feel as if they’re bad, unworthy, and unlovable. Their inner child is saying, “Please love me” just like ours is.
When we feel a sense of shame, most often our attention is focused on fixing ourselves to fit into the standards of the world so we can be loved and accepted. By doing so, we often deny how we’re truly feeling and instead look for the “right things” to say and do, which keeps us from living our truth.
Instead of fixing ourselves to cover up how we’re truly feeling, we need to take the time to understand why we’re feeling, thinking, and acting how we do, which may be coming from past traumas, hurts, and wounds.
If we keep our shame hidden, we may feel stuck inside, which makes us feel stuck in our lives because our minds and bodies continue to react automatically from the past painful and unresolved experiences.
Not sure if you’re carrying deep shame? How much of this is true for you?
- You’re unable to find inner peace. Deep inside you don’t feel good enough, like there’s something’s wrong with you.
- You need to be loved and approved of by others in order to love and approve of yourself.
- You feel insecure and unworthy and constantly compare yourself to others.
- You see yourself and others through the lens of past painful experiences.
- You’re afraid to try new things, share your creativity, share how you’re truly feeling, or ask for what you want and need because you don’t feel worthy, or you’re afraid of feeling embarrassed or shamed.
- You mold yourself to try to fit in with what everyone else is doing instead of following what has true, heartfelt meaning for you.
- You often feel anxious and afraid, and you have a constant critical inner voice.
- You try to achieve as a way to prove that you’re worthy, valuable, and lovable.
Since being shamed makes us want to hide those parts of ourselves that were unacceptable, healing happens when we bring those parts into the light of awareness and embrace them with unconditional acceptance and love.
Healing starts to happen when we recognize and break free from the trance we’re living in. We do this by going to the root cause(s) of the shame and resolving that unresolved pain with compassion, love, and a new understanding.
Healing starts to happen when we learn how to be more compassionate with ourselves and instead of saying “Why can’t I just…?” We ask ourselves “What keeps me from…? How can I help that part feel seen, heard, understood, and loved?”
Healing starts to happen when we begin to uncover, discover, and embrace our natural qualities, talents, and abilities and allow those parts of us to be felt and seen.
Healing starts to happen when we learn how to speak to and treat ourselves in more kind, compassionate, and loving ways, and also believe that we’re worth it.
Please remember that healing is a process. Our system is conditioned to be a certain way, and our minds and bodies love to stay with what’s familiar. Working with our tender, hurting parts with love and compassion can help us break out of the trance of past hurt and wounds and experience what true love and inner peace really means.
So, instead of trying to get rid of the shame or cover it up, embrace the parts you’re ashamed of with unconditional acceptance and love. Let yourself and your inner child know that you are beautiful, valuable, and lovable as you are, even with your wounds and scars.
About Debra Mittler
Debra Mittler is a warm and compassionate healer with a unique ability to touch people’s hearts and souls. She enjoys assisting others in loving and accepting themselves unconditionally, feeling at peace in their body, and living authentically. Debra is a leading authority in overcoming obstacles and supports her clients by holding a space of unconditional love and offering encouragement, effective tools, and valuable insights allowing them to experience and listen to their own inner wisdom.