As one of the most debilitating emotions, shame can form a closed environment where one suffers in silence. Here’s how we can break down those walls, and begin to heal from within.
Shame is universal – we all experience it to some degree in the form of guilt, humiliation, or embarrassment. It’s something that no one likes to talk about because of the stigma attached to it. Many believe they need to bottle it up because it’s not viewed as behavior that’s “normal”, and doesn’t live up to the unrealistic expectations that our society dictates to be acceptable.
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.
These are the types of life events that, when admitted, make us feel like a failure.
While nobody wants to talk about these topics, the irony is that so many people can actually relate to them. And without the ability to normalize them by connecting with others who share the same human experience – we crack. We develop anxiety. We feel depressed and disconnected.
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?
Shame and struggling with vulnerability are both heavily discussed in Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly. 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.
Not surprisingly, one major area in which shame is prevalent – appearance and body image.
When we look at the definition of shame, it is easy to make the connection to the way our culture dictates how we may feel about our bodies. 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? Here are a few ways to start fighting it head on.
1. Talk about your shame.
Shame grows and gets bigger when we don’t talk about it. The only way to minimize shameful feelings is to talk them out. The pressures of society, especially about “eating clean” and looking perfect can affect everyone. It’s difficult to cope when you feel like a failure for not reaching impossible standards. Once those feelings are shared, however, we can start acknowledging how to combat it.
2. Know your perfectionism.
As Brown shares: “Shame derives its power from being unspeakable. That’s why it loves perfectionists – it’s so easy to keep us quiet.” Eating disorders and disordered eating tend to 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?
3. Talk with those you trust.
One caveat to talking about shame is that you can’t simply 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.
The fact is, we need to start opening up more and break down the walls we’ve built up.
It’s time to stop worrying about being judged, and stop caring about what other people will think of us. We need to start allowing our true selves be seen, and by doing so, we can connect with other people who may be experiencing the same things. We can help heal each other by normalizing our life problems as they are, and help each other understand that we are never alone.
We all have so much more in common than we think, because 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. Get vulnerable, and be seen.
And most importantly, combat shame, once and for all.
Adapted from the original article.
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Kara Lydon, RD, LDN, RYT is a nationally-recognized and award-winning registered dietitian nutritionist, certified intuitive eating counselor, and yoga teacher. She believes that the key to authentic health and wellbeing is celebrating food and our bodies, a philosophy that she instills in the kitchen, yoga studio, with her clients, and in her popularly featured food and healthy living blog The Foodie Dietitian.