*Trigger alert: This product’s ingredients contain courage, creativity, and shame information — a sensitive ingredient for even the most seemingly confident. Use with care. If you think it would be better to apply with a tele-therapist, please trust that.
I froze. I waited, and waited, and waited for my older sister to say, “Unfreeze.” She was four years older — eight years old, and I obeyed. She stood like a teacher in front of a classroom. The students were my other sister and me. We were “playing” upstairs on the wooden floor.
My position was increasingly unbearable. I felt like I was going to topple over any moment or explode.
(Spoiler alert: By writing this article I’ve given away the fact I did not explode.)
Oops — loyal to the wrong part of a person
“Freeze” was a game we played as children. We can, in a similar way, feel loyal to keeping shame frozen, like I was loyal to my older sister to stand in an uncomfortable position. Shame can “freeze” in us from non-verbal and verbal messages we received from parents, caregivers, or teachers that we interpreted to mean we were bad or not enough. When we are infants and children we feel and think anything that happens is about us.
On an inner level, we can feel that we must feel bad about ourselves forever, loyal to that all-knowing authority; that might have been our takeaway as tiny children. This authority may have been one who we wanted so much to love us.
Understanding shame vs. guilt
In the process of daring to face shame, it can be helpful to remember the difference between guilt and shame. Author and shame researcher Brene Brown expressed, “I believe that guilt is adaptive and helpful — it’s holding something we’ve done or failed to do up against our values and feeling psychological discomfort. I define 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.”
Myths and re-frames
This article offers ten updates for reframing old interpretations of ourselves as unworthy, with space for you to create reframing statements/affirmations that fit you. I invite your participation in looking over the “Transforming Ten Myths About Shame” and the discussion that follows.
”…healing comes from tenderness. Embrace the wounds, wash them, bandage them with loving care.” Sophy Burnham
Transforming ten myths about shame
1.I’m flawed. Re-frame: I’m human and spiritual, a lifelong learner. Courageous learner, I love you. It’s OK to make mistakes. Even though your steps might be tiny, and backward at times, they are purposeful and create momentum. I love you. I support you through your struggles and learning.
2.My body is flawed. Re-frame: I have compassion for my human body which supports me every day to have my life, is so fun and creative to dance with, and is so extraordinary in its workings. The Spirit within me makes me beautiful. Healthy body, I love you. Creative body, I love you. *If relevant you can say the following: Ill body, I love you, knowing you serve me as best you can.
3.My dreams and aspirations are flawed. Re-frame: The past does not equal the present. I have not succeeded in manifesting something before because then it was not ready, I was not ready, or the audience was not ready. Today I have worthy and beautiful dreams and aspirations with the courage to purposefully go for them. Creative dreams, I love you. Purposeful dreams, I embrace you. Life is all about change, right?
4.I’m not worth (fill in the blank) _________________________(love, wonderful intimacy, financially being well cared for, looking elegant, success). Re-frame: There is nothing I need to do to deserve these gifts. I am enough by being alive, deserving as much as anyone on the planet. I am worthy of love, wonderful intimacy, being financially well cared for, looking wonderful, and having success in my work and my life. Blessed, gifted soul, I love you. Worthy of love self, I love you.
5.My past is flawed = my present and future are destined to be flawed. Once shamed, always framed: a life sentence. Re-frame: Today is a new day, this is a new moment. I am continually growing, and though I have had some shame and pain experienced in the past, I have amazing potential — the Creator’s gifts within me. I still “have it”. Present and future me, I love you. Welcome to change and growth.
6.My roles are flawed — I’m not good enough as a mother, parent, woman, social worker, dutiful employee, wife, widow, daughter, aunt, neighbor, etc. Re-frame: I can grow gradually, step by step in any of my roles, and breakthrough a pattern from yesterday, last year, or ten or fifty years ago. Evolving me, I cheer you on!
7.I must keep feeling shamed out of loyalty to _________ (my mother, my father, my sister, my family) as I hold that place in my family and have taken on others’ shame. Re-frame: It does not serve others’ souls to hold on to shame, just their egos, and unconscious, unevolved patterns. I will help my family evolve and slip out of the role! Pioneer shame buster, love and compassion grower, I love you! Isn’t it time to be loyal to yourself?
8.When I was shamed or rejected it had something to do with me, everything to do with me. Re-frame: Others may have shamed you out of their lack of skills to guide you in a supportive way, out of busyness, out of a power trip, out of dumping their pain and shame, or out of ego. I don’t need to own their momentary ignorance and live my whole life or any part of it feeling and or playing “less than” based on this illusion which serves no one. Truth-teller, liberating me, I love you. You deserve to have a bountiful life. You deserve happiness. You deserve love and kind and positive regard.
9.I am shameful by association — by being shamed, close emotionally or physically to the person who is shaming me, or in the past projected their shame onto me. Re-frame: Others’ shame, blame, criticism, lack of kindness is not a gift, and I will no longer receive it, even if it is close to me, or close by me. Just because I was there, and felt deep pain and rejection, does not mean that I was by any means worthy of the cruelty, lack of gentleness, or lack of compassion. Assertive and resilient me, I love you.
10.Because I took in shame at a deep level as a child, I need to retain that shame as an adult. Re-frame: Though my sensitive baby, child, and young self thought whoever shamed me was knowledgeable and all-knowing, I now realize they were human, suffering. As an adult, I no longer believe they were God and right about shaming me. (You may want to give yourself a hug of compassion for the disappointment and loss involved.) With compassion for what you endured in the past, I love you through every age you have been.
“… if it is possible to face them [experiences of shame], instead of seeking protection from what they reveal, they may throw light on who one is, and hence point the way toward who and what one may become.” Helen Merrell Lynd, On Shame and the Search for Identity
Frankly, looking at where unhealthy shame came from and untangling myself from it is a practice that takes courage. I often avoid it until pain leads me to do it. Then I take a deep breath and go for it. It is an ongoing journey for me, and I am still encountering layers of it, as recently as today. I have the relatively comfortable wardrobe of areas where I’ve lightened shame, and the boxes in the closet with outfits I’ve not tried on as yet.
Taking the shame out of hiding, with actions like looking at yourself with compassion in the mirror, reading about shame myths, and designing affirmations, can remove rocks that previously blocked the freezing cave of unhealthy shame. The warm part of you that is eager to discover who you are can come out now. She is the one who says, “Yes,” and “You can do it” to you and life. She feels joyful as she comes out to play. She knows she deserves to be, to live, to thrive.
“I renew my spirit by releasing guilt, fear and shame, acknowledging the truth and having accountability for my actions.” Lisa Nichols
This story by Claudia S. Gold, ACSW, MPH copyright 2020 is from a forthcoming book with the working title It’s Not Your Shame. You can email email@example.com for a free “It’s Not Your Shame” exercise. Though Claudia has served as a clinical social worker in mental health programs and hospitals in Los Angeles, she writes about personal experience lightening shame since embarking on an unexpected “Shame Into Joy” pilgrimage.