Your shameful secrets are a screen separating you from society and relationships. Image: Flickr/bobarcpics

There may be secrets you keep—not literal or intentional secrets, but negative feelings and beliefs about yourself that have grown bigger and uglier over time. Along with these secrets comes great shame. What shameful beliefs do you hold about yourself? Where did they originate from?

Maybe these beliefs started when you were young—negative seeds through insensitive words and/or actions were planted, and through time, these seeds bounced around in your brain without an exit, without an outlet. They got magnified into a monstrous emotional mass. If not released, this negative self-belief ends up taking on a disproportionate and sometimes paralyzing meaning. It pollutes your experience of the world and the quality of your relationships.

Here's one way these seeds take hold and grow into an ugly mass. Let's say you accidentally said something awkward and embarassing in a relationship you cared very much about. The shame you carried from this negative experience over time turned into feelings of self-conscious about who you are and how you communicate in relationships. It is so uncomfortable and pressure-filled that you retreat and shut down. You feel such self-disgust about it. Without outlet, that feeling continues to grow and infect your relationships, even your perception of yourself socially.

Keeping the original belief, idea, or impression locked in your head gives it a place to fester and ignite further shame, even self-hate. Eventually, the belief that you are a social disaster might become a deeply held, shameful conviction.

The louder these magnified, negative beliefs become in your head, the more violently they collide with your sense of self. Like waves repeatedly crashing on the shore, they eventually erode your shoreline, your level of security and confidence in relationships, which leaves you less emotionally present and connected with the real world.

An important part of letting out some of the shame-filled self-belief is that you actually get to hear yourself say it out loud. Once you actually hear yourself say it to someone else you might begin to appreciate the absurdity of just how far you have taken the belief, or recognize how disproportionately powerful it has become in your life. For others, hearing themselves actually say the shameful self-impression out loud to another person helps them feel less alone with such a heavy burden, and they can begin to feel understood in this struggle. This process can be a powerfully positive experience and begin to combat the negative beliefs that have held them captive for so much valuable time.

One key to this process is the assurance of and confidence in being able to begin to open up and release this shameful perception of yourself to a safe person in a safe setting. Who you choose to share your deep shameful self-belief with can be such a scary decision. It could be your sister, your best friend, your hairdresser, someone you don't know well but have a good feeling about, or your committed and loving partner. Or maybe it's with a therapist. Regardless, if trust doesn’t come easily to you, sharing this deeply shameful and personal self-belief involves a leap of faith

It’s also important to understand that this undertaking, like most undertakings, is a process. Does the feeling of shame go away immediately when you release it to your trusted person? Of course not. But it is a start. It often brings with it a feeling of being lighter pretty quickly, even If only briefly at first. Talking out loud to a trusted other about the negative self-belief you have held for so long airs it out and makes room for a different perspective. It introduces some light into the dark cavernous space that negative belief system has lived, thrived, and grown.

For people who struggle to understand how they are perceived by the world, or others whose seeds of negative self-belief have grown into disproportionately powerful and daunting challenges, actually acknowledging there is a distorted self belief bouncing around in their brain can be difficult in its own right. It has somehow been protective. Rigorously guarding and maintaining this belief has been a necessity because it feels like it has served some adaptive, self-preserving function. However, you recognize it is also extremely self-destructive, shameful in its own right, isolating, and exhausting, and you want to dilute its power by talking about it.

Releasing your shameful beliefs in a safe environment is the first step toward dissolving the screen that separates you from yourself and from your relationships. As you take this first step, the intensity of your negative self-impressions will begin to lift. By bringing your secrets to light in a trusting space, you make more room in your head for the positive. You begin to struggle less with developing and maintaining trusting, reciprocal, positive relationships and with feeling more comfortable in social situations. 

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