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Depression & Mental Health Blog
June 9, 2016
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Four Ways to Deal with Shame

What Is Shame?

Some call it self-doubt, others call it embarrassment; these and many other descriptors can mean shame. Shame is the experience of guilt or embarrassment, of feeling as if a person isn't good enough or worthy of love, acceptance or forgiveness. A person can feel shame over a particular event, such as a history of trauma or abuse.

Shame is a powerful emotion that can cause you to feel unworthy of love and a happy life when the opposite is true. These tips, along with seeking professional help, can help you to overcome feelings and emotions that come along with shame.

1: Recognize Shame

Some people feel shame without putting a name to it. And you can't overcome an emotion that you can't recognize. It's important to identify your emotions and reactions as shame. Many people feel shame on a physical level, such as nausea, shaking or teeth clenching, before they recognize its mental effects.

Consider when you experience these or other physical effects related to shame and recognize the emotions that may come next as a shame experience. When you recognize and acknowledge shame, you can then take steps to move past it.

2: Forgive Yourself

Shame and self-blame create a vicious cycle where, even if your shame trigger is related to an event outside your control, you'll blame yourself. However, you can't live a life where you can't forgive yourself. Sometimes you may even have to say this out loud repeatedly: "I forgive myself for the past. I'm not the same person I was then."

Understanding that your past is just that—the past—can help you move forward and live a life free from shame. While you can't change your past, you can forgive yourself and refuse to let your past control your future.

3: Be Compassionate to Yourself

If you find that you’re saying cruel things to yourself as a result of shame, stop and think about what you’re actually doing. Would anyone in your life who loves you speak to you the way you’re speaking to yourself? Or would they say something kind, words of encouragement to help you move past these difficult emotions? Do not allow yourself to be your own worst enemy.

After you forgive yourself, it's important that you begin to view yourself as a person worthy of a fulfilling life. This means showing kindness and compassion to yourself. Treat yourself as you would a friend who has gone through a difficult time.

In fact, you can consider what you might say to a friend who has experienced what you have recently. What would you tell him or her to provide compassion and support? Write these words down and repeat them to yourself. Do things for yourself that you would enjoy. This could be as simple as ordering a meal you enjoy, listening to music, reading a favorite book, or taking a walk and enjoying nature's beauty.

4: Recognize and Reinforce the Good in Yourself

The opposite of shame is pride—and this word doesn't have to have a negative meaning. Taking pride in yourself and believing in the good you have to offer the world can help you overcome shame. Consider your accomplishments and strengths and develop affirmations that you can repeat.

These could include statements like:

  • "I'm a good friend to others."
  • "I have a way of making people feel good about themselves."
  • “I excel in school, sports, art or other creative pursuits.”

Recognizing the good in yourself isn't bragging or shameful. Instead, it is finally focusing on what's good in your life and about you. This helps to amplify these positive aspects of yourself and allows you to share them with the world.

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