You know the sensation all too well. Someone just pointed something you did that was not in keeping with how you want people to see you. Or perhaps they even called you a name, and you deeply believe it. Both hot and cold at once, a feeling of shame seems to creep into your cells and leaves you heavy and miserable. You wish there were something—anything—you could do to not have to experience this painful emotion. Luckily, there is.
Shame is a painful self-perception. It often accompanies a sense of having done something wrong. In his book Healing the Shame That Binds You, the late John Bradshaw pointed out that there are two kinds of shame. Healthy shame helps us feel balanced remorse for actions that do not support our highest good or the good of all. Toxic shame binds us into toxic behaviours and thwarts our brilliance, joy and fulfilment. Here, we will look at toxic shame and how to address it.
Shame can be hard to see because it hides in the dark. Yet it is quite common and comes from a feeling of being fundamentally flawed, unlovable or broken. It is a motivator behind co-dependency, addictions and the drive to over- or under-achieve. These compulsions can break down families and friendships, undermine our work, and destroy our personal lives. Most people suffer from some degree of shame, hidden in the recesses of their psyches. That is what shame does. 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.
You may think you are the only one who does things you want to hide from others and from yourself. But many people struggle with feelings of shame and self-disgust. Because hiding supports shame, it’s important to remember that the more you avoid it and the painful feelings you feel around it, the more it grows.
Shame shows us that we are identified with our shadows. Any misperception of being fundamentally bad, ugly, or damaged is an illusion perpetuated by a wounded sense of self. It exists because we give it power. We hang on to it. Yet at the same time we fear that it’s the truth, so we hide it away.
Shame is not to be “fixed”, but gently revealed. The energy caught in our hidden and disowned places needs to be slowly brought back from the dark and moved into the light. When we understand that shame is based on an erroneous perception, severing us from our true nature and causing only pain, we can witness its presence in our lives. With this comes the courage to open to it with self-love and kindness and reclaim the energy we had given to it. In whole self-acceptance, we naturally release shame.
As you discover the broken bits from the darker recesses of your psyche, you can see that you are a being of light who happens to cast shadows at this time. In every moment, no matter what shame temporarily binds your perception, you are loved and supported beyond what you can consciously see.
Because shame exists in the severed places that you fear in yourself, just the process of revealing them in a safe environment is powerfully healing. You need to be seen, just as you are. You can do this by yourself, on your own, with gentleness and loving attention. If you suffer from debilitating shame, consider professional help from a skilled therapist. He or she can create a safe place in which you can allow your feelings of low self-worth to emerge, without judgment. When you bring your wounded bits to the light and you discover that you will not be punished or annihilated for them, but instead are loved and accepted, you feel more alive and whole than ever.
Gently ask yourself:
• Do I feel loved?
• Do I feel loveable and worthy of love?
• What am I ashamed of?
• Am I willing to love myself enough now to forgive myself for that?
• Do I feel fundamentally flawed? If yes, in which way?
• What does this feeling serve?
• Am I willing to be present for that feeling, be kinder, gentler and more loving towards myself and let this painful feeling go?
From my heart to yours,