Have you ever felt stuck? You’ve got lots of ideas and many directions you could be taking, but you just feel immobilized. It’s almost like you begin something new, criticize it, and abandon the idea in your mind because you know it will fail all before you’ve even taken any action. If you’ve ever had this experience then shame might be keeping you stuck.
Shame? Can it be? Is it really that hard to believe? Any human being with the capacity for compassion and empathy can experience shame. So, save sociopaths, we’re all at risk of feeling the sting of shame at some point in our lives.
Shame is aimed at our self-worth. It introduces itself as the threat that we aren’t lovable and convinces us that we are unworthy of connection and belonging. When it’s present, our thoughts center on what’s missing instead of what’s there. We become scarcity-minded, are constantly comparing ourselves with others, and are generally disengaged.
Sure, we struggle to keep performing, proving, pleasing, and perfecting for others so that we can fit in, but we never really feel like we belong. We wear a mask to hide our imperfections and stay silent about what really bothers us because we’ve been told that our voice doesn’t matter. When something pokes our sore spot, we get defensive and others wonder what’s wrong with us.
According to Brene Brown’s research on vulnerability, shame, and living wholeheartedly, around 80% of adults live in a struggle for worthiness, and 41% of adults can recall a stifling emotional experience where their creativity was criticized. The resulting shame altered the way they felt about themselves and became a part of their identity.
So, shame is a battle for your identity. In the human psyche there’s nothing more powerful than what you believe to be true about yourself. It affects every single action you take, every single day. We will seek to act in alignment with who we think we are because we have a deep need to feel congruent with those beliefs about ourselves. I refer to identity as “the force that shapes our destiny” because our destination is determined by our decisions, and our decisions are determined by our identity.
So, how do we get out of the shame cycle? Here are 3 strategies that will help you out.
Name Your Shame
I said earlier that our identity shapes our destiny, but what informs our identity? Our story. And shame is a story that we tell ourselves. The great news about stories is that, once they’re known, they’re endings are in our control.
So, I’ve spent a large part of my life as “the fat kid.” It’s a story that started with me gaining 27 pounds in my 1st grade year when I learned to seek comfort in food while grieving the loss of someone important to me. Since my actions were centered around avoiding the pain that I didn’t feel equipped to deal with, my weight gain was a physical sign of the hiding my heart was doing. After I gained the weight, the kids around me started to shame me because of my appearance, and my personal story started to revolve around the identity of being fat.
When someone speaks judgment, one of two things happens: we experience it as shame or as humiliation. For example, if someone says, “Why don’t you stop eating those donuts. Can’t you see they’re making you fat?” then the internal dialogue of the receiver takes over. If shame speaks it usually says, “You are fat. You deserved that.” If humiliation speaks it says, “You may be eating something unhealthy, but you don’t deserve to be treated that way.” The difference in the experience is in their story.
For a long time, I identified with the statement “I am fat” and resigned myself to always struggling with weight. But, as I grew older, I began to realize that my choices surrounding food were in my control and that my behaviors around food were the real issue. It wasn’t until I really sat down, at the behest of my then mentor, and wrote out the statements that summed up my identity in “I am ____” statements that I was able to really be free.
You see, when we name our shame it’s us taking authority over the hold it has on us. It’s bringing what was once bound in the darkness to the light of the truth and seeing it for what it is. It’s changing the story that kept us sticking to the shame script and rewriting for ourselves a story that says we’re worthy of all the love, belonging, and connection that our soul desires.
When we name our shame we give ourselves control over how our story ends.
Show Up And Be Seen
When we’re stuck in a shame story we avoid the feeling of being vulnerable. Vulnerability is when we’re exposed, naked, and our hearts are out there for others to see and judge. It’s not the place you normally go when your feeling unworthy.
But the interesting part about vulnerability, is that while it’s the place where many of us got hurt and experienced pain, fear, shame, and unworthiness it’s also the birthplace of joy, fulfillment, creativity, belonging, and love. So, when we allow ourselves to open up and become vulnerable with the world around us, we feel more like our true selves and are rewarded with all the things we believe we’re not worthy to receive.
Watch Brene Brown’s TED talk on The Power of Vulnerability
For example, we all have an innate need to belong or fit in. But how we go about doing that can throw us further into the shame cycle or help us find our way out. When we go into a meeting with a group of strangers we can do one of two things: we can try to fit in by finding things we have in common, talking about things we think will make everyone like us, and molding ourselves into what we think everyone wants us to be; or we can be vulnerable, be ourselves, and show up and be seen.
In the first instance, my identity is on the line. I’m altering who I am in order to be accepted by the group and gain a sense of belonging. Therefore, if I get accepted, I take it personally and make a maxim out of compromising myself to fit in and, if I get rejected, I take it personally and believe that I’m not enough. But if I just show up and be seen, then I’ve put myself out there and I’ve stayed true to who I am. Therefore, if I get accepted, then it’s because who I am connected with someone and, if I get rejected, then I don’t take it personally because my identity is not in play.
When we show up and be seen we allow our whole hearts to live, breath, and engage with the world as we really are.
Shift To Spirit
Shame comes on like a flood in our emotions and we’re not always given a warning when it happens. When we start to hear the voices tell us that we’re not enough and accuse us of being undeserving we need to shift our focus fast!
So, my favorite strategy for dealing with shame when it shows up is to practice gratitude. Whenever I feel the fear of meeting someone new, the threat of being vulnerable, or the need to prove my worth to anyone I ask myself, “What can you appreciate about this moment?” When you start saying things like, I have a roof over my head, I have clean water to drink, I have shoes on my feet, I have a loving spouse, I have the benefit of lots of experiences, and the like then you’re shifting your focus off of how you’re not enough (scarcity) and onto the ways life is more than enough (abundance).
You see shame can only exist in the realm of the ego. But in the realm of the spirit, there is no shame. When we practice gratitude, we’re shifting from our ego-driven thoughts to our spirit-driven thoughts. Gratitude is so powerful that, whenever I do this, I not only get unstuck but also get connected with the power to create the life I desire and deserve.
When we shift to spirit we connect ourselves with our true identity, where shame desists and gratitude exists.
Question: Have you ever felt stuck by shame? What strategy did you use to conquer it? You can leave a comment by clicking here.