What decisions have you made recently based on your shame?
Probably more than you realize.
One of the definitions of shame on Dictionary.com is, “the painful feeling arising from the consciousness of something dishonorable, improper, ridiculous, etc., done by oneself or another.”
Shame is a painful emotion responding to a belief we have failed in some way. It can motivate us consciously, for instance if we become embarrassed. This is a relatively minor form of shame.
I am writing to challenge you to go deeper.
The shame that blocks us from being our best is typically more subversive. It is buried deep behind strongholds (false beliefs based on emotional wounds) and affects our decision-making subconsciously.
Brené Brown shared an interesting story from her book, Rising Strong, about shame on her blog this week.
If you are willing to face the shame of your past mistakes, or current belief in yourself, one option is to go through the process of a RAIN meditation.
Here is a 4-step process and link to the Mindful website offering this advice:
The key reason we experience shame is because humans were designed with a sense of right and wrong. Otherwise, anything goes and shame would not exist.
We have shame because our brain constantly assesses our self-worth against the standards existing in our DNA, established by our parents, and/or developed through our life experiences.
Shame can be resolved in a healthy manner, such as the RAIN process above where you acknowledge the shame; stay with it for minutes or hours; forgive yourself, and if applicable, ask for forgiveness from others; and then move forward learning from the experience and not repeating the mistake.
Is shame potentially motivating some of your decisions, behaviors, and actions?
I suggest the answer is, yes.
Here are some examples of how shame could be negatively affecting you:
Anger / Blame Others
We may understand someone else's mistake and how it hurts others because we have made similar errors ourselves. One common response is for us to project blame and anger onto them, partly as a scapegoat for the punishment we feel we deserve. This is a defensive response to our disgust or disappointment with ourselves.
Anger is more comfortable to experience than shame. (Psychology Today)
Unfortunately, transferring our shame to another person is a form of self-deception. This decision, which is often unconscious, relieves some of the symptoms of shame-based pain and discomfort temporarily, but does not heal the disease of our shame.
Unresolved shame can motivate some people to medicate their pain with alcohol, drugs, overeating (physically abusing yourself), obsessing about your image through over-exercising or other harmful activities.
Feeling Not Good Enough
Another common response to shame is intense competition to prove you are good enough. Unfortunately, the goal of achieving peace and inner joy by being the best can only be temporary. They need to prove yourself never ends until you take the time to go through the process to "peel back the onion" to the point where you reach your shame and resolve it.
Anticipating the Pain
People with unresolved shame may anticipate, rightly or wrongly, that they are about to be judged as inadequate. This motivates them to strike first before being hurt (again).
This may drive them to manipulate the self-esteem of the person they expect will hurt them. They may use insults or other actions intended to hurt that person so they can feel equal or superior to them.
Once again, these behaviors do not eliminate the shame. This meanness only distracts the shamed person away from the pain of their past mistakes. There is no resolution, restitution, or healing.
One way to consider shame is as an example of powerful deception. Remind yourself the best lies are based on a shred of truth. Yes, you made a mistake. However, was it really a wound that feels like it can never heal?
The intent of shame is to take you out of the game by making you feel inferior and motivating you to live in the mistakes of your past. This keeps you from focusing on the meaningful experiences of your past, the blessings of today, and the potential available in your future.
What should you do?
Shame is a rattlesnake in your garden. Kill it.
Invest time to candidly identify past mistakes that cause you shame.
Spend time alone in a safe place to consider each mistake, remind yourself of how you were trying to do your best at that time, and own each mistake.
Focus on where to go from here, including how to stop allowing shame to dictate your decisions, relationships, and results.
One option is to work with a professional to help you through this process. That is not my expertise. The advice in this article is based on what I have experienced personally and observed in others throughout my life. This commentary is for informational purposes only.
You can win this battle against shame. Start with a reality check. Work through the process. You will emerge stronger, but it is a process you must journey through. It is similar to a caterpillar that has to work its way through the process of emerging from a cocoon on its own to experience the joy and fulfillment of being a butterfly.
Painful. Difficult. Yet, life giving.
You can overcome shame. I cannot help you as a therapist or professional counselor, however I am encouraging you as a fellow leader.