Shame is an internal feeling. No one, other than yourself, can make you feel shame. Only your thoughts — over which you hold complete control — can cause you to feel shame.
Shame is basically just your disapproval of your own actions and it’s probably one of the worst, most destructive feelings that someone can experience.
Many people use the terms “guilt” and “shame” interchangeably; however, there is actually a difference. Guilt usually motivates a person to change in some way.
One time, I completely forgot my friend’s birthday and I felt so guilty that I immediately marked it on my calendar to ensure I never repeated the mistake. Shame, unfortunately, does not spark action, but instead, promotes people to sulk about their situations. Shame leads people to want to run away and hide.
It is very easy to get in a cycle of shame that, at times, feels impossible to break.
So, how does one expose feelings of shame in a productive way that allows for progressive movement?
1. Be Empathetic
As Brene Brown states in the book, "I Thought It Was Me, But It Isn't,"
"Empathy is the antidote to shame. Love yourself enough to forgive yourself and not immediately label yourself as a bad person based on your actions.”
2. Express How You Feel In Healthy Ways
Shame is powerful because it can lead you to want to isolate yourself and hide. However, hiding shame will only lead to its manifestation. Find healthy ways to express your inner struggle other than by drinking.
Choose to be vulnerable with those you trust. You’ll know that you are not alone, which will help you to remember that you are okay.
3. Discover What Triggers You
Determine the steps you must take to avoid negative behavior and to protect yourself.
Some of your feelings of shame have originated from a traumatic experience from when you were growing up. Regardless, once you identify the source, you will be able to better understand what sparked the shame.
For example, if you grew up in a family that valued body image and appearance, you may believe you are flawed because your idea of a “perfect” physicality is unrealistic and unattainable. With all of the Photoshopped images that surround us (or anything else that makes you feel physically vulnerable), this shame will be constantly stimulated.
Only when you identify what triggers your shame, will you hold the power to rise above it.
4. Practice Reacting To Shame Appropriately
Shame is difficult to discuss, partially because it can be painful to confirm it with any attention. When someone admits shame, proceed with empathy. The same applies for you: Be empathetic and compassionate to yourself.
Understand that you are not defined by your shame. The next time you do something that leads you to criticize yourself, stop for a moment. Replace the negativity with loving, warm sentiments. Then, learn how to avoid the triggers that cause your shame to manifest.
Forgive yourself and move forward or confide in a trusted friend to seek consoling. Do not keep your negative feelings inside, leaving them open to potential growth.
Expose shame for what it is: an unhealthy feeling.