“Shame derives its power from being unspeakable.”
Shame. It’s such an uncomfortable feeling. So uncomfortable that you may not even want to read this post. You think that if you leave it hidden in the shadows, outside of conscious awareness, maybe, just maybe, you can pretend it’s not there.
But it is. And for some of us, it’s dug in deep.
If shame stays where it is, unseen and unexplored, it will continue to affect you. How? It’s behind the self-critical voice in your head, many unsatisfying dynamics in relationships, feelings of lack and unworthiness, and choices that keep you from fully living.
Shame is so personal! It’s a painful feeling of humiliation—that you’ve done something wrong or that there’s something disgraceful or embarrassing about you. It’s the secret emotion that can sit in you like a poison.
And the last thing you want to do is bring it out in the open. You think that all that will do is highlight your worst fears about yourself.
But here’s the possibility for you—the light that can begin to untangle shame:
You move from feeling oh, so separate and alienated to being more at ease with yourself and your own experience. The boundaries that disconnect you from everyone and everything begin to fall away. Almost like being born anew, you are open, light, and available to life.
You can make the choice to let your pain rule you by keeping it in the shadows. Or you can befriend, explore, and welcome it into the light of conscious awareness. How? Here are 10 potentially life-changing ways to move through shame.
Getting to Know Shame
1. Be a courageous explorer
If you’re just beginning to explore shame, you’re going into foreign territory. Just like the ancient adventurers who took to the sea not knowing what they would find, be courageous, curious, and open.
And when it comes to pain, discover the most compassionate place within you to receive it.
Practice: Set the stage for your exploration of shame. Bring your attention inside, and touch into the qualities of curiosity, wonder, openness, and compassion that are natural to who you are. Find them, then stay with feeling them for a while.
2. Find the gap
You might be very used to feeling shame, but you may not know it well. In fact, you may have been trying to avoid it at all costs because it’s so painful.
But here we take a different approach by befriending your experience. What is shame exactly? How does it feel? How does it appear in your thoughts about the past and yourself?
Answering these questions requires you to step back from being completely consumed by shame so you can gain some psychological distance. It’s the gap that begins to set you free. Imagine you’re studying an object you’ve never seen before to figure out what it does. Just like that, create a bit of space between you and your experience of feeling shame.
Now you’re relating to shame in a new way. You can study it, inquire about it, and see what it is—this feeling that’s had such an impact on you.
Practice: Find a small gap between you and shame. See that you can observe your experience and be curious about what you discover.
3. What’s the story?
Shame doesn’t appear from nowhere. It’s a form of conditioning that inhabits your mind, heart, body, and spirit. Maybe you were somehow made to feel ashamed of yourself when you were young – ashamed of who you are, your level of intelligence, your body.
There might be a story of shame that you’ve carried for a long time, but it’s actually a role you’ve taken on that is optional. Start to tell yourself that this shame story doesn’t have to define you.
Remember that who you are is not this story. Your essence is whole, not separate from anything, and boundlessly free.
Practice: Stand up and feel yourself in that familiar story of shame. Yes, right now! Just try it. Now, take a big step to one side and leave the story behind. Feel yourself minus the story. This is the possibility for you.
4. How does shame live in your body?
Every emotion has a physical component to it. Getting to know shame includes knowing how it lives in your body.
It may take some time to discover the physical experience of shame because it’s become so commonplace to you. Get quiet and bring your attention to your body. Then notice any physical sensations and places of numbness. You don’t need to do anything about them.
This is an exercise in simply meeting in open awareness what has been there anyway. It’s about making friends with the physical part of shame.
When you realize you don’t need to live the story of shame and you become aware of the sensations, the heaviness of this identity begins to dissolve. It’s the road to freedom.
Practice: As much as possible, a hundred times a day if necessary, bring your attention into your body and just be with whatever is happening. There’s no need to do anything; just simply be.
5. How you speak to yourself
Our inner self-talk can be so painfully harsh. And if you look at the root of what drives it, you’ll find shame, that feeling that there’s something terribly wrong—or worse—about you. Once you begin meeting the shame directly—by not being so captured by the story and feeling the physical sensations—this way of speaking to yourself starts to not even make sense anymore.
Let’s tell the truth. Are you actually that incompetent, inadequate so-and-so you think you are? If you look at these inner statements with the objective eyes of a scientist, you’ll be able to punch holes in them immediately.
By now, this negative self-talk is a habit that needs your attention, and the more intelligent focus you give it, the more it will unravel. Commit to recognizing this voice and letting its reign over you diminish.
Practice: Start by assuming that this damaging inner voice isn’t accurate and doesn’t serve. This is the truth. At least once every day, turn your attention away from these self-critical thoughts and let them float on by like clouds. Be the sky—vast, empty, and serene. Start to live here as much as possible and the critical thoughts begin to lose their power.
6. Know how and why you isolate
Living with shame is lonely and isolating. It makes you believe that no one would want to get close to you, which justifies your pushing them away. How do you do that? By being critical and judgmental of others.
Recognizing the urge to isolate is essential to moving through shame. Because it is a sign that your shame identity has taken charge. When you find yourself judging others and feeling separate, this is your golden moment to begin asking questions about your experience. What story do you believe? How do you feel in your body?
Not judging shame and welcoming it instead is the beginning of forming a new, healthy relationship—with yourself. Then you don’t need to be critical of others or push them away. You’re more available, authentic, and courageously vulnerable. And others will love you for it.
Practice: Recognize when you judge others and realize this is about you: it makes you feel separate. Is shame at the root of this need to separate? Inquire into what you’re thinking and feeling. Realize the possibility of a true connection with others.
7. Is there fear there?
Shame and fear often go hand in hand. You’re afraid of being seen for who you are. And at the same time, you fear being alone. You’re afraid you’re damaged goods, doomed to a life of misery.
As you get to know shame, become aware of various fears that may be lurking. Bring fear, too, out of the shadows and meet it lovingly.
Practice: Check to see if fear is present. Let down your resistance and allow it in, especially how it appears in your body. Like a long-lost child returning home, embrace the fear. Let it be there for as long as it wants to.
8. Find the strength in being vulnerable
Vulnerability gets a bad rap these days. But what it actually offers you is the relief from having to hide from yourself, the simplicity of just being as you are without having to change anything.
Whatever you feel is your present moment experience. Resisting it creates endless suffering, and welcoming it in is the path to inner peace. This is the medicine for the secret of shame.
Be as you are. Not in the story of who you think you are that is denigrating and destructive—you’ve lived there long enough. Instead, shift your attention away from these thoughts, and allow your current experience as it is. These sensations…this breath…touching…hearing…looking…speaking…
It’s so relaxing because you don’t have to hide or grasp. You can just be.
Practice: Begin to get comfortable being with whatever you are experiencing in any given moment. Start with just a few moments until you see that it’s OK, that whatever you’re afraid will happen, won’t. Then, more and more, let yourself be.
9. Sacred honesty—with yourself
When you live in shame, you are constantly lying to yourself. You draw yourself into a trance that makes you believe you are inadequate, unworthy, and just plain wrong. The truth? It’s just plain inaccurate.
Healing from shame invites radical honesty. Are you up for it?
Whenever you are feeling separate and lacking, question your experience. Find the gap (#2 above), and recognize the thoughts and feelings in your body that have taken hold.
Then realize that who you are is so much more than this identity. To be perfectly honest, you are whole, unbroken, and infinitely at peace. Keep returning here. Become more and more transparent so the light of truth shines through.
Practice: Investigate your direct experience with a discerning eye to see what is true and what is false. Live in the truth of yourself as whole, full, pure, and capable.
10. Wide open heart
Shame is all about limitation, holding back, and keeping yourself separate and isolated. And where is your heart? Wounded, stuck, and closed.
Begin to live with a heart wide open. Move your attention outside of your head to notice the beauty and tenderness around you. It’s been there all along, you just haven’t noticed. Let yourself be touched by the simple experiences of daily life.
Shame is a filter that keeps you from life, and dissolving the filter leaves you available and receptive. Without even trying, you begin to notice love and appreciation. Where before you held back, now you engage.
Recovering from shame opens you to being fully alive!
Practice: Find within you the courage to begin to open your heart. Instead of being absorbed in shame, experience things—and people—with fresh eyes. When you notice that you are closed, open…open…open…
What About You?
Are you caught in shame? Believe me, you are not alone. Have you discovered how to move through it? I’d love to hear…and if you’re reading by email, please click here to comment.