Dear Parvati,
My life looks good on the surface – I’m intelligent, good looking, have a decent job, a good relationship – but I feel like a loser. I can’t seem to stop doing things I’m not proud of, like spending evenings playing World of Warcraft instead of working on my writing (I want to publish a novel), or letting the vegetables rot in the fridge while I eat chips for supper or order pizza… meanwhile I’m paying $100/month for a gym membership and not using it. I think most people who know me are really fooled and they think I have it so much more together than I really do. I’m afraid that if they found out the reality, they’d all get disgusted and drift away from me. My significant other has brought up the idea of living together, but I’m afraid I’ll lose her if she sees how I really live. Sometimes I feel like I’m drowning in shame for not being a better person. How do I fix this?

Thank you for your question. Hiding is hard to do at any time, especially on an ongoing basis. Hiding our true self from our self and the world is extra hard, even painful. You may think you are the only one who does things you want to hide from others and your self. But in truth, many people struggle with similar feelings of personal shame and self-disgust. Because hiding supports shame, it’s important to remember that the more down on yourself you feel, the more you feed the shame, that is usually fueled by feelings of low self-esteem or a wounded sense of self-worth.

Shame is quite common. It is a fundamental motivator behind our pain-driven behaviours, such as compulsions, co-dependency, addictions and the drive to over- or under-achieve. These compulsions can break down families and friendships and destroy our personal lives. To some extent or another, most people suffer from some degree of shame, hidden in the recesses of their psyches. That is what shame does. It hides in the dark where we cannot see it. Yet out of our conscious sight, it wreaks havoc on our lives. Shame undermines the expression of our authentic self and our ability to live our true potential.

John Bradshaw, author of “Healing the Shame That Binds You”, reminds us that there two kinds of shame: toxic shame binds us into toxic behaviors; healthy shame helps us feel balanced remorse for things we do, think and say that do not support our highest good or the good of all. The shame I address here is toxic. It is the kind that thwarts our brilliance, joy and fulfillment in some capacity or another.

If you feel you suffer from toxic shame, you may consider reading John Bradshaw’s very helpful book on the topic. Written 17 years ago but still selling more than 13,000 copies a year, the book is considered a classic authority on the subject. It has helped millions identify their personal shame, understand the underlying reasons for it, address the root causes and release themselves from the shame that binds them to their past. I would recommend it for pretty much anyone who is on a personal, healing journey and wishes to live a life of balanced wholeness.

The roots for toxic shame can be traced to our youngest years, when our true self was judged not good enough by our primary caregivers. We were made to feel that there was a fundamental lack in our being, that we are fundamentally flawed at our core. Because of this, shame exists because of our fundamental misperception that we are flawed. So thoughts of “fixing” shame, as the question suggests here, only exacerbates the notion that we are broken.

Shame is not to be fixed, but gently revealed. The energy caught in our hidden, severed and disowned places needs to be slowly brought back from the dark and moved into the light. As we learn to witness our hidden, shameful bits with self-love, kindness and understanding, we integrate them into who we are. In that place of whole self-acceptance, the grip we have around them organically releases and our sense of internal split is healed.

Continues tomorrow with Bringing The Wounded Bits To The Light.

PS – the latest Parvati Magazine is live. This month’s issue is on love, including self-love. Please go and check it out.