As one of the primary emotions, shame is a part of the human experience you’re your struggling with feelings of shame, use these quotes to spark some gentleness with yourself, and gratitude within.
Mistakes Are Okay
“Even the knowledge of my own fallibility cannot keep me from making mistakes. Only when I fall do I get up again.” – Vincent Van Gogh
There’s an ebb and flow to life, and everyone is in it together. We all make decisions that lead to outcomes we’d rather not experience. Sometimes, we act from a place of fear or resentment, or intentionally cause harm to those around us. Sometimes, we are naive or have inaccurate information. While mistakes are inevitable, what action do you want to choose from here?
Consider Inner Vs. Outer Factors
“You cannot change the wind, but you can adjust the sails.” – Bertha Calloway
While the circumstances that triggered your feeling of shame may or may not be in your control, your choice to hang out in shame is within your control. We can honor the moment of shame but not linger there. How can you take care of yourself so that the shame can shift?
“You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” – A.A. Milne/Christopher Robin
Shame can be rooted in untruths told to us by others. What if your courage, strength, and brilliance is greater than you’ve ever believed, and the only thing stopping you are your thoughts?
Consider the Ripple
“Every action in our lives touches on some chord that will vibrate in eternity.” – Edwin Hubbel Chapin
Whatever the reasons for your experience of shame, remember your positive impact as well. Your choices will ripple out and likely far outweigh your mistakes. What impact do you want to have on others?
Shift to Gratitude
“Sometimes we should express our gratitude for the small and simple things like the scent of the rain, the taste of your favorite food, or the sound of a loved one’s voice.” – Joseph B. Wirthlin
One of the easiest ways to change our emotional experience is to come into our hearts. Look around and consider what you can feel grateful for in this moment. Then – and this is the trick – don’t just think about gratitude, but actually invite in the feeling. What can you feel grateful for now?
Hang Out with a Dog
“Dogs have boundless enthusiasm but no sense of shame. I should have a dog as a life coach.” – Moby
We can learn a lot from animals, and dogs are a great example of (usually) living without shame. It’s possible to draw energy from a memory of an animal or person you admire for their shameless way of being. What memory makes you smile?
Looking for more inspiration to overcome shame? Check out my personal share about >>> “Self Love.”
As Brene Brown says, guilt is the feeling that comes from having done something bad. Shame is the feeling that comes from feeling you are bad. While shame can have a positive impact, such as helping us to socially conform, very often when people speak of shame, they are talking about toxic shame.
The base of our toxic shame is often built in our early life and/or as the result of unhealthy relationships or difficult societally stigmatized life events. Once the path has been laid, then it is that much easier to set off a chain reaction called a shame spiral.
Most of us have had this experience. First we make a mistake. Then we judge ourselves for the mistake. We withhold love and acceptance from ourselves, and in this weakened state, we continue to make more bad choices, feel more shame, and withhold more love and acceptance.
Shame spirals can last for any length of time. In one way of looking at things, the bad choices and negative self-talk on a daily basis can be seen as a constant shame spiral. However, most often we are talking about an acute experience that sets off one or more of our triggers.
The first step in making a change is awareness. We need to be aware enough of the problem that we can see where we might be adding new behaviors to it. After you become aware of your struggles with shame and the shame spirals that rule the difficult parts of your life, then you can start to employ methods to get yourself out of shame and back on track.
Here are six steps to help you stop a shame spiral:
1. Know your triggers. Sometimes the best remedy is to stop a spiral before it even happens by avoiding or working around triggers. But even when you don’t, if you know your triggers, then you can act that much faster after one of them has been activated. If, for example, “failing” publicly is a trigger, then you know to immediately take some counteractive measures should you bomb a presentation.
2. Hear your inner voice. What you may or may not be aware of is that your shame spiral is led by your inner critic. This inner voice will tell you all the ways that you messed up, how people are judging you, and what negative things to think about yourself. Because it has an inside view of what you are most ashamed of, this voice is expertly targeted at your weakest points. When you tune into this voice, you can set it straight.
3. Don’t indulge in bad habits. The bad habits are the things you do when you are feeling shame that make you feel even more ashamed. You make a choice to fight with someone that you care about, drink too much, or not do something important that needs to get done. You might wonder why on earth we would do more “stupid” things when we am already feeling so bad, but shame impairs our judgment and often leads to forms of disassociation that make it difficult to make good decisions.
4. Love yourself anyway. Mistakes happen. Bad choices get made. In order to stop a shame spiral, we need to accept ourselves and our choices. We don’t need to condone them, but being on our own side and being understanding is key to stopping the shame from getting worse. So, regardless of how many bad choices you have made, offer some love and support to yourself. You did not make those choices because you are a bad person. You made them because you didn’t know what to do or couldn’t choose it at the moment. Chances are that was because of some past traumas in your life.
5. Choose supportive behaviors. If our bad habits can bring us down, our good habits can bring us up. When we get triggered, we can actively choose to do things that help us feel better rather than worse. We can look at the things we have done right. We can participate in an activity that helps us feel better.
6. Connect with loved ones. This is a supportive behavior that deserves its own category. Because shame thrives on secrecy, connecting with someone who really sees you for who you are can be one of the best antidotes to shame. This can be very hard for people who are experiencing shame, but if you can muscle through the discomfort, you will soon find yourself free from your feelings of shame.
It is never too late to stop a shame spiral. That little voice telling you that it is too late is only part of the shame spiral itself. It does not matter how deeply you feel that you have dug yourself down—you can turn it around. Keep trying. Keep loving yourself and shame will become less and less a part of your life.
For more ideas about overcoming shame spirals, check out my article >>> “What is Wrong With Me? Healing From Toxic Shame.”
Lapses in confidence are common, but when we are left feeling like we have somehow fallen short regardless of our accomplishments, it might be time to look a bit deeper to find out what might be driving this feeling.
I remember a client of mine several years back asking, “How do I love myself? What does that even mean?” For someone who has been well initiated into shame, self-love is so far beyond their comprehension that it is like describing a different universe.
We develop shame through life experiences, social conditioning, and cultural indoctrination. In short, we believe we are bad because we had experiences where people made us feel that way—overtly or covertly. These experiences are most impactful in our childhood when we are much more easily conditioned. However, the right combination of experiences at any point in life can leave us believing in our worthlessness.
Shame is complex and can be difficult to take apart. Understanding how and why it develops can give us a bit of insight.
Children learn to regulate their behaviors by developing an emotional “clutch,” located in the prefrontal cortex, that can turn the accelerator off when the brakes are applied and redirect their interest in more acceptable directions…. An activated accelerator followed by the application of brakes leads to a nervous system response with a turning away of eye gaze, a feeling of heaviness in the chest, and a sinking feeling (Dan Siegel and Mary Hartzell).
This internal mechanism helps the child learn how to get along well with others and regulate their behavior in a way that is socially compatible. This happens in a very healthy way if, along with the child’s instinctual “braking,” there is love and connection offered from the outside. If, on the other hand, love and connection are withdrawn, then the child will have a different interpretation of the events.
This does not happen after one episode. When the experience is repeated, and the more it is repeated, the child comes to believe that there is something wrong with them. They will come to believe that what is wrong with them is either something someone told them in conjunction with these events or a seemingly random problem they might have found in their environment.
One of the simplest ways to heal ourselves is to reverse the process that we experienced. In other words, if we lost love and connection when we had a shame reaction, the best thing we can do for ourselves is to connect and feel love when we start experiencing shame.
This is easier said than done, but each time that you can choose this, it will help you to feel less chronic shame, and through that, strengthen your sense of self-worth.
When trying to reconnect and heal from toxic shame, there are some important things to consider.
Is this person safe?
Are they capable of supporting me?
Do I know what will help me?
Do I have a back-up plan?
Is this person safe? Not all people are capable of meeting you as you try to connect and come out of shame. If you are not sure about your personal relationship, it may be helpful to first do this work with a professional to ensure the maximum safety for yourself. Even when working with a professional, try establishing the relationship’s security before sharing highly sensitive material.
Are they capable of supporting me? Someone may love you a lot and be very trustworthy but lack the ability to show up in the way that you need during this vulnerable time. Sometimes, you will not know if someone is capable of supporting you until after you have tried. That is totally fine. However, if someone has proven themselves unable to show up in the way you need, you will be better off waiting to share with them until you have shed some layers of shame.
Do I know what will help me? Very often, the answer to this question is no. However, it is still worth thinking about and finding some answers to. When you know what you need, it is that much easier to get it for yourself. We often learn this by getting what we do not need and then using a process of elimination to learn what works best for us.
Do I have a back-up plan? Crossing this divide can seem really risky. There are reasons that you decided to hide rather than connect. Not every attempt is going to be met with success. In fact, your defense mechanisms might make it impossible to feel successful even if many successful features are present. Taking good care of yourself means knowing where you can go or how you can take care of yourself if your situation ends up being less than optimal. In time, as you grow in this skill, it becomes less necessary as the whole process will become easier.
It is helpful to keep in mind that the vast majority of people deal with some kind of shame that holds them back or shuts them down. You are not alone, and your bravery not only paves the way for your own expanded life, but also helps others heal from their shame.
An important element in overcoming toxic shame is learning to love yourself. Read more here to learn why this is so important >>> “7 Reasons to Love Yourself First.”