We all experience shame, also known as guilt, humiliation, or embarrassment. Shame is universal – but we don’t have to surrender to it. We can fight it. Read on to learn how to combat shame.
I’ve been feeling that it’s important to use this space to talk about the shit that no one talks about. The stuff that has such a big stigma attached to it that everyone feels they need to bottle it all up because we don’t think it’s “normal” or it doesn’t live up to these unrealistic expectations that we, or society, have set for ourselves about how we’re supposed to feel and act. Like when you have problems in your relationship with your significant other. Admitting to seeing a therapist. Experiencing postpartum depression. Talking about body image issues. Having anxiety about tying the knot. Undergoing financial struggles. The types of things that when admitted, make us feel like a failure. The stuff NOBODY wants to talk about but yet SO many people can relate to. And without the ability to normalize this stuff – to connect with others who share the same human experience – we crack. We develop anxiety. We feel depressed. We disconnect.
When did we become a culture that no longer talks about anything remotely difficult or uncomfortable? When did we all start feeling so shameful about our thoughts, feelings, and struggles?
I thought a lot about shame after finishing Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly. It’s a must read if you struggle with vulnerability (and who doesn’t). And as someone who identifies as highly sensitive, anxious and type A, I’m very familiar with the shame game.
Not sure what shame even is? Brown defines shame as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection…shame is the fear of disconnection – it’s the fear that something we’ve done or failed to do, an ideal we’ve not lived up to, or a goal we’ve not accomplished, makes us unworthy of connection.”
One of Brown’s main “categories” in which shame usually pops up is appearance and body image. Not a huge surprise. When looking at the above definition of shame, it is so easy to make the connection to body image. The unrealistic thin ideal makes plenty of people feel flawed and unworthy because of their natural body shape. This image of impossible perfection is reinforced more often than it is criticized, so we need a way to fight back.
So how do we combat shame? How do we get out of this vicious cycle of feeling ashamed?
TALK ABOUT YOUR SHAME.
Shame grows and gets bigger when we don’t talk about it. Often times, when we are fighting the uphill battle against diet culture or an eating disorder, we feel like we are alone – if we could just be a little stronger like her and look a little thinner like her then we would feel better. Well…the stronger and thinner people are comparing themselves to someone else and feeling their own shame. The only way to minimize shameful feelings is to talk them out. The pressures of society, especially about “eating clean” and looking perfect, affect everyone. It’s difficult to cope when you feel like a failure for not reaching impossible standards, but once you share those feelings we can all fight the monster of diet culture together.
Brown writes in Daring Greatly: “shame derives its power from being unspeakable. That’s why it loves perfectionists – it’s so easy to keep us quiet. If we cultivate enough awareness about shame to name it and speak to it, we’ve basically cut it off at the knees. Shame hates having words wrapped around it. If we speak shame, it begins to wither. Just the way exposure to light was deadly for the gremlins, language and story bring light to shame and destroy it.”
Eating disorders and disordered eating also target people who identify as perfectionists or type A personalities. Knowing this can give you the intellectual power to fight against it and dig for the courage to speak up! Ask yourself how is my perfectionism serving me and how is it hurting me? How can I use this personality trait as an asset as opposed to a liability?
One caveat to talking about shame is that you can’t just lay your shame on anyone and everyone – that can have its own repercussions. Instead, identify a couple or a few people in your life who you trust with all your heart and know they’ll always have your back. This could be your parents, your therapist, your dietitian, or a few close friends. These are people who you should feel safe talking to and getting vulnerable with. The people who love you and won’t judge you no matter what.
If you are struggling with an eating disorder and you want to start sharing that with some of your closest loved ones, I encourage you to speak with your therapist and/or dietitian about that process. It’s a very brave step in recovery to be able to talk about and share your struggles with those closest to you and can be helpful to have support from your treatment team along the way.
We need to start opening up more. Breaking down the walls we’ve built up. Stop worrying about being judged. About caring what other people will think of us. We need to start letting our true selves be seen.
By doing so we can connect with other people who might be going through the same thing we are. We can help heal each other by normalizing – by saying, I know what you’re going through. You’re not alone. Because feeling alone is a really, really shitty feeling.
We all have so much more in common than we think. We all share the human experience. And that human experience is one wild ride. So don’t take the ride alone. Find a partner. A confidante. And get vulnerable. Be seen. And combat shame, once and for all.
Tell me, do you ever experience shame? When does shame come up for you? Do you talk about it or bottle it up?
This post was originally published in July 2015 and has been revamped and republished to give you the best content possible.