Treating others as we wish to be treated is a piece of advice that we are regularly told as children. This can be a very positive viewpoint on how to treat family, friends, and even strangers. But what if we delve deeper into examining our self-conscious emotions and how we believe we are perceived by others?
Throughout our lives we try to control how we act and present ourselves as individuals to others in society. Due to this self-awareness, we are often our own biggest critics when it comes to our behaviours. We may compare ourselves to our peers, and that comparison can result in self-shaming. “I’m not good enough,” or “I will never amount to that” are negative statements that are associated with self-shaming. How does this shameful mindset start? In this blog we discuss shame, how it manifests, and how we may overcome shame and learn to accept it as a part of our natural emotional journey.
WHAT IS SHAME?
According to the Oxford Dictionary, shame is “the feelings of being sad, embarrassed or guilty that you have when you know that something you have done is wrong or stupid.”. Similar to happiness, sadness, and loneliness, shame is another emotion that we have all felt at some point in our lives. There is no shame in feeling shame – it is only human nature for these feelings to manifest.
Shame and guilt are often confused with each other; guilt is associated with an act of wrongdoing that we feel we must make amends for, while shame is what we feel when we believe we are not good enough, resulting in the reduction of our self-worth. When we reflect shame upon ourselves it is important to ask ourselves: Where does this stem from and how can we stop this negative mindset towards ourselves and others?
HOW SHAME MANIFESTS & AFFECTS US
When we feel shame, it doesn’t necessarily mean that we have done something wrong, but we may still feel that we have behaved wrongly. Often times we begin to feel humiliated and view ourselves as wrong, defective, inadequate, or not good enough.
As children we are taught wrong from right, and how to behave in a way that reflects what is expected of us in society. Due to these expectations, we are often quick to shame each other for stepping out and exposing ourselves. We shame each other for standing up and speaking up. For example, we may be teased for making a small mistake at work, or we may be bullied for how we look what we choose to wear. When these suggested “flaws” are pointed out, shame overcomes us and we feel humiliated despite not doing anything wrong. In turn, this experience can lead us to feel vulnerable.
Brene Brown says it best: “Vulnerability is not weakness, and that myth is profoundly dangerous”. When we are vulnerable we open ourselves up to shame. This is not a bad thing! How do we move forward in society if we don’t take risks, speak our mind, and share our creative ideas? We often don’t want to feel vulnerable and open up to others because of our fear of shame.
Not only does shame limit our abilities to promote new ideas, it is directly associated with addiction, depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and more. We may feel shame for who we have become due to our lifestyle choices, or we may feel shame because we are not amounting to who we thought we would be at this point in our lives. One specific action is not the reason why we may feel shame, but it could be how our whole being is manifesting that is the cause of why we carry the shame. For example, if an individual was emotionally or physically abused throughout their life, they may be quick to shame themselves for the very same actions, feelings, and emotions that their abuser may have shamed them for.
How do we recognize shame when it’s happening, and redirect our way of thinking to a healthier, more accurate way of seeing ourselves?
OVERCOMING AND ACCEPTING SHAME
As previously discussed, when we open ourselves up to vulnerability we also open ourselves up to shame. However, we may not get very far in life as individuals, or as a society if we do not open up, share, and work through the shame that may present itself.
The first step to overcoming shame is recognizing it as a human trait. We will then be able to understand why shame has shown up, and possibly label the cause. From there it is up to us to manage our response. It is natural and expected to feel shame, but it is how we deal with it when it appears that enables us to overcome it.
Another step towards overcoming shame is practicing self-love. If shame is associated with negative thoughts about our self-worth, then we must create ways to gain confidence in ourselves which allows us to create a high sense of self-worth while lower our negative judgments of ourselves. This can be done numerous ways. You can write down positive attributes about yourself such as intelligence, your expertise in a certain topic, your ability to love your friends unconditionally, etc. We all have positive characteristics, but we often don’t give ourselves enough credit for them. Another way to build your self-confidence is repeating positive mantras for yourself throughout the day when you feel shameful. Yell “I am worthy!”, “I am intelligent!”, “I feel fantastic in this outfit!” These are just a few examples of how you can promote self-confidence throughout the day.
How do we stop from shaming others? Brene Brown provides us with another way to overcome shame: “Empathy is the antidote to shame.”. By placing ourselves in another’s shoes, we may not feel exactly as they do in their situation, but we may gain more of an understanding as to why they are acting the way they are, or why they are sharing certain information with us. This makes us less likely to comment or reflect our negative opinion about this individual.
No matter who you are, where you are, or how you identify, shame is a very human trait that we all experience. If we try to understand others before we judge them we may shame others less, and, in return, feel less shame toward ourselves. Most often our hardest critics are, you guessed it, ourselves! With practises in place that help us promote our own self-awareness and more importantly self-love, we can overcome shame as individuals and as a society. If you have questions regarding shame, or would like to speak to a professional, please contact us HERE.