3 Ways to Stop Shaming Yourself
If you take a wrong turn onto Shame Street, here is how to find your way off it.
Posted Jun 29, 2020
If you are feeling bad and want to beat yourself up, there is no better place to go than Shame Street, USA! Shame is one of the most jarring of emotions. It is a super-loud voice that screams all kinds of self-flagellating messages at us, such as:
- "How could you screw this up!"
- "No one ever makes mistakes like this!"
- "You are worthless!"
- "You may be fooling others, but you will never be enough"
Brené Brown, Ph.D., LMSW, describes shame as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed" and therefore points out that shame is a focus on self, while guilt is a focus on behavior. She writes, "Shame is 'I am bad.' Guilt is 'I did something bad.'" Shame does not discriminate! It reaches across race, religious faith, whether you are rich or poor, normal weight, overweight, or thin, or successful or struggling in life.
Shame leaves us feeling unworthy of love and without a sense of belonging. Not surprisingly, the last thing we want to do when overcome with shame is talk about it. If we do, we erroneously believe that others may completely run away once they discover just how horrible we are.
Everyone experiences shame from time to time. There is no one you know who has not felt shame. I certainly regret times I did not think before I spoke or when I took certain actions in my life. Left poorly managed, shame can shut us down (often putting us on the "bottle it up and explode, or implode later plan"). That's one plan that does not turn out well!
Shame is closely connected to many emotional struggles, such as anxiety, addiction, self-defeating behaviors, depression, aggression, violence, and eating disorders. As I researched to develop the activities for my latest workbook, The Anxiety, Depression, & Anxiety Toolbox for Teens, it's become clearer to me than ever how crucial it is for us to learn ways to manage shame. Let's look at how to overcome this paralyzing emotion.
Here Are Three Ways to Surmount Those Shaming Feelings:
1. Don't bottle up shame—let it out with those you trust.
By acknowledging shame, we refuse to let it own us. When we bury our shame narrative, we let it eat away, and eventually, we dismiss all the good things we stand for. But when we use some compassion to comfort ourselves and realize no one is perfect, then we can give ourselves time to learn and grow instead of torturing ourselves with self-recrimination and regret.
The more you can open up to people you trust, the more you can avail yourself of their empathy and support. This helps you work through guilt and prevents you from slipping into shame. Remember: The only perfect people are in the cemetery! Being alive means you get to spend your life learning and growing from your mistakes.
2. Become a shame trigger spotter.
Being mindful of your insecurities can help you be on the lookout for when you are about to perilously speed up on Shame Street. Some examples of shame triggers that some of my clients have shared over the years include:
- Gossiping and getting caught doing so
- Hastily sending a text message when you are upset and letting your angry emotions take over
- Making an insensitive joke and being told that's the case
- Making an impulsive, poor decision
- Not being able to complete college
- Being laid off from a job
Rather than give in to these triggers, try to be task-oriented. Once you realize you're feeling triggered, take some steps to calm down and then go into problem-solving mode. Or, you may find in some cases that starting to problem-solve right away can help calm you down. For example, a student who does poorly on an exam can take a few deep breaths, review what went wrong, and rebuild that all-important confidence by getting an early start studying for that next exam.
As another example, if you say something to someone that does not go over well, you can let that person know that you spoke too soon, offer an apology, and go forward with a growth mindset to learn from the experience.
3. Know your value.
We strive for others to think highly of us. We want them to admire our ideas and our actions. But what happens if they don’t like our contributions? If your value is overly attached to what you create or offer, then you are moving toward the ramp on the shame expressway. For example, you may suggest something in a meeting and find there is little receptivity or that it is dismissed. Shame in a situation such as this can cause us to slink down into our seat or lash out: “I’m a loser! There's no way I will ever suggest another idea in a meeting,” or “My idea may not be great, but yours is garbage!”
And even if you make a great suggestion or your idea ends up being a home run and creates a really good plan and outcome, then this success can feel like a burden to keep living up to; you feel like you must continue to solely focus on pleasing others. Knowing your value leaves you feeling free to develop new ideas, take risks, and even make mistakes to learn from. Yes, your setbacks won't feel like all sunshine and roses, but they also don't have to be laden with shame when you know your value from within.
Bernstein, J. (2015). 10 Days to a Less Defiant Child (2nd Ed.) Perseus Books, New York, NY.
Bernstein, J. (2020). The Anxiety, Depression, & Anger Toolbox for Teens, Eau Claire, WI: PESI Publishing.
Bernstein, J. (2019). The Stress Survival Guide for Teens. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.
Bernstein, J. (2017). Letting go of Anger—Card deck for teens. Eau Claire, WI: PESI Publishing.
Bernstein, J. (2017). Mindfulness for Teen Worry: (Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications)
Brown, B. (2012) Listening to Shame. https://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_listening_to_shame?language=en