5 Tips to help reduce shame and increase self-worth.
Shame Shame, I know your name.
Shame is so overpowering and over-encompassing, it doesn’t discriminate and it thrives in our darkness. It has this ability to bind to all the other emotions making them even harder than they can already be. I want to take a minute to talk about the dark arts of shame and its hijacking effects as well as provide some light in the darkness for how we can learn to manage it.
What is shame?
Shame is a complex emotion that arises when we feel as though we have failed to live up to our own or others’ expectations. It can be triggered by a variety of experiences, including criticism, rejection, or judgment, and can be directed inward or when it’s too overwhelming it can be projected outwards. Shame is often characterised by a sense of unworthiness, inadequacy, and a feeling of being flawed or defective. Harsh as hell right? Most of us when we are in a more functional space, would never even dream about talking to someone else the way we talk to ourselves.
Core beliefs are formed from your past experiences which create that feeling of shame. You may have negative core beliefs about yourself, for example, “I don’t matter” or “I’m not good enough” that distort or misrepresent your reality. These work as the lens through which you experience and interpret the world when you get triggered into that space. When we were little, we started to make sense of the world. We found out that what we are sitting on now is called a chair, our parents are our parents, and they are meant to care for me. We then question things about ourselves, are we important? Valuable? Loveable? We find the answer to these lessons from direct or indirect messages we received throughout our experiences. So shame is that inner voice or inner child that started to assign meaning to past experiences about ourselves. There is a reason the message of shame feels so big, it is because it is so old. Even when we are triggered now, as an adult, if it is hysterical, it is historical.
The crazy thing is some of those wounds were a result of what we received or didn’t receive in our experiences and instead of externally saying “You aren’t there for me” or “You did wrong by me” we internalise the message to say “I must have done something wrong” or “I am bad/naughty”. This is actually a protection mechanism that children act out. If I assume responsibility for things that may not be any fault of mine, then I can protect the attachment or attunement that I have in my relationships with my caregivers and keep trying to create safety for myself by always trying to be good enough or proving myself.
The effects of shame.
Shame can have a profound impact on our lives and self-worth. It can lead to feelings of depression, anxiety, and low self-worth, and can make it difficult for us to connect with others or form healthy relationships. Shame can also cause us to withdraw, isolate and disconnect and at times lead to engaging in self-destructive behaviours, such as substance abuse, binge eating, or self-harm.
Nobody wants to be not good enough, unloveable or unworthy as it can produce some of the above behaviours, so they start the unspoken, unconscious mission to do whatever it takes to prevent that shame. This sparks the creation of a role that we need to play in order to not be in that shame. This might look like being a people pleaser, the best at our jobs, overcommitting or performing in the things we or others find to be most important. In turn, this means discarding the authentic selves or true-self that in reality are worthy just for existing and being. Somewhere along the way, our worth got questioned and we created a message about ourselves and so the cycle begins.
Strategies for coping with shame.
While shame can be a difficult emotion to navigate, to say the least, there are strategies that we can use to cope with it. First off, It isn’t going anywhere, we are always going to have moments where we get triggered, if shame is the triggered part of ourselves or our inner child within us, then it is not something that we can kick out of our life for good. All emotions come and go and shame is no different in that sense. It just takes the ability to name it, identify it and soothe it, turning something that takes us out of control or powerless into something we can soften and assess why it’s knocking a the door again.
Each emotion is trying to tell us something, they work as an alert system that the body and mind signal to us that something is going on here. Each then has a need. When someone is in shame, because of its ability to hijack and create havoc, I think what we need when we are in shame is to have humility and compassion. Humility because this complex emotion can bring us to our knees if we aren’t careful, it can create utter powerlessness, so being humbled by it and acknowledging how devastating it can be to have around can prepare us for its ability to come in like a wrecking ball. Compassion on the other hand is needed because if shame thrives in the darkness, then compassion provides us with the light.
Here are the top 5 tips for shame reduction:
- Practice self-compassion: One of the most important things we can do when we are feeling shame is to be kind and compassionate to ourselves. This means acknowledging that we are human and that we all make mistakes, and treating ourselves with the same kindness and understanding that we would offer to a friend. Think of the kindest most caring person you know and start fostering some of their compassion back at yourself.
- Challenge negative self-talk: Often, shame is fueled by negative self-talk. We may tell ourselves that we are not good enough, that we are failures, or that we are unworthy of love and acceptance. To combat this, we can challenge these thoughts by questioning their validity and replacing them with more positive and affirming messages.
- Reach out for support: Shame thrives in isolation, so it is important to reach out and connect. This may mean talking to a trusted friend or family member, joining a support group, or seeking therapy. Having connections when it’s hot and live will mean we don’t have to carry the heavy burden alone.
- Practice mindfulness: Mindfulness can help us to stay present in the moment and to observe our thoughts and emotions without judgment. This can be particularly helpful when we are experiencing shame, as it can help us to detach from the emotion and to see it more objectively.
- Focus on strengths: When we are feeling shame, it can be easy to focus on our weaknesses and shortcomings. To counteract this, we can focus on our strengths and accomplishments. This can help to build our self-worth and to counteract the negative effects of shame.
All of these are resources that will assist you, but the bottom line of it all is if we don’t back up the challenging, affirming and strengthening with action then we will go straight back into the same old shit and get the same old results. When we are in shame we are putting ourselves down, so imagine putting a 4-year-old, or 5-year-old down and telling them they are not worthy. Would you? Think about what they would need when they are feeling that way about themselves. Validation of their experience, to be seen and heard for how heavy it is, then comforted, nurtured, cared for and shown love and compassion.
- So what does that look like for you as an adult?
- What is an age-appropriate way that you can acknowledge, validate and then show up with compassion and meet your needs for what they are?
- How can you provide comfort and nurture for yourself at that moment?
When we can learn to manage our shame or the core beliefs that come up then we can start to live more fulfilling and meaningful lives with authenticity and worth. As a therapist, I am committed to helping my clients navigate their experiences of shame and to find strategies for healing and growth so they can be their true selves and not old roles of the self.
If you want to know more about how to reduce your shame and live the more authentic life that you deserve please reach out and connect, shame can be large and in charge so this blog can only scratch the surface.