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This is for anyone out there who wants to let go of feelings of shame; to confront actions you’re not proud of, and let them go so that they do not hurt you and continue to destroy your positive sense of self. Shame is the most destructive of all internalized emotions because it defines your image of self. It comes from an unresolved conflict in your moral conscience, one you can’t reconcile because you have acted against your own values.
It usually begins with actions that confuse you. You don’t know why you have taken specific actions and that causes you to assume that the source of the actions is something to do with you being bad: it’s a result of your true character.
In general, the why behind shameful acts are primitive emotions. Things like:
1. Fear: Shameful acts are often done out of fear because it causes us to act in ways that are desperate and irrational. They are driven by an impulse to self-protect.
2. Low self-worth: A self-fulfilling prophecy, a belief that we are bad, deep down.
“I’m a screw up, therefore I will always screw up.” “I don’t care about anyone or what they think of me, because I know what I am and eventually, they will too.”
3. Extreme pain: When someone is suffering inside, there’s nothing good or bad in life; it’s all comparable. So physical soothing is the only thing that reduces pain or makes any kind of marked difference. It doesn’t mean the mind agrees or isn’t scarred by the acts.
4: Numbness: A disconnection to self that is initiated by a trauma, resulting in a total lack of connection and trust with yourself.
“I have no idea what I will do.”
If you are holding onto something you did as a result of primitive emotions, know that you didn’t have the tools at the time to act in accordance with your values.
Now you’re stuck with something that hurts you and defines you, though it’s not a reflection of who you are and what you believe. It’s a terrible place to be because it means you hold onto something you don’t want to have. What I would like to offer is a framework by which to examine the hurt. This memory is hurting you because it betrays your values. Values that are good. And you are the one who suffers.
I know there’s wide swath of actions that could have created shame and all of them are painful to look at–for you, the person feeling shameful. Because the solutions are as vastly different as the acts themselves, I want to bring up what they share: how to let it go.
This might sound shocking, but you do it for you. Make it right with yourself. Make it about salvaging your life and your ability to invest in your relationships. Make it about being able to be fully present for everything wonderful that will come in your future. Start there. Move from that point alone. That goal, in itself, will inform everything else.
For the sake of healing and letting it go, you must address the conflict only from your vantage point. Not from the others who were affected by your act. So that you may understand why it happened at all. This is comes down to fixing your relationship with yourself.
Decide you want to be whole and know yourself, truly grow to understand yourself. Because whether or not you realize it, there is a logical set of conditions that set the stage for whatever it is that happened. Do it for the dignity of your life and allow it to be truly lived. Because burying shame is the same as deciding to keep it.
Regardless of what you’ve done that you’re ashamed of, you have the opportunity to begin to let this go today, and make a change. Decide you want to feel proud of yourself and confident in your character. To begin, all you have to do is work on simply learning.
I don’t mean rationalizing why it’s okay or wasn’t that bad, or didn’t make that much of an issue for others, etc. That’s your brain talking and all it does is wrap a bandage over this rusty nail in your consciousness. Rationalizations lead to a false awareness of your self, because it’s a lie to yourself that you know exists, so you bury it deep down and hide from it, eventually integrating it into who you are. Eventually it cannot be gutted because it perpetuates similar actions moving forward. The lie becomes the walk you walk.
I do mean decide to learn about what set the stage for your decisions in your life: get to the root. Many of the experiences that scar us are based on myths about who we are that cause us to act as that person. In the process, we hurt ourselves and feel lower as humans. It’s a painful and wasteful cycle to stay stuck within. The myths need to be understood to be dispelled.
It can be scary to take a look at what you’re afraid of about yourself, but know that the motivations and emotions are universal. The feelings are common, just like the cycles that create them; you are not different or worse.
1. Sometimes it’s the belief that catalyzes the actions:
“Bad people do bad things, I am the type of person who will mess up.”
You almost push yourself to prove you’re bad by taking actions that will confirm it. It’s both to punish yourself and also to give up in surrender to the pain you feel inside.
“Why not? What’s the point?”
2. Sometimes it’s a lack of connection to self that creates the actions, and those actions create the belief:
For example, if you have a lack of connection to yourself, you will have no understanding of why you do the things you do, or what is good or bad in your life. You will also unknowingly put yourself in dangerous situations, because you cannot sense how bad they are: like allowing your hand to burn in a fire because you cannot tell it is hot. It is the repercussions of these actions that create the same and do not leave your memory.
3. Sometimes the lack of connection to yourself creates unbearable anxiety that is too stressful to bear, driving you to actions that hurt you and create shame.
When you don’t have a connection to yourself, you do not trust yourself because literally–you have no idea what you will do in a given situation. When good things start to happen in your life, this lack of connection and trust will cause such extreme fear and devastation at the thought of when you’ll have to lose it all, that you drive yourself into scarring actions, just to quench the excruciating anxiety of not knowing when you’re going to mess up. It’s like living as a person who’s already dead.
If things become too happy or peaceful, you destroy them. “It’s gonna happen eventually, I should do it now before it’s even more painful, so at least I will have control over the hurt.” It’s like taking off your own Band-Aid.
When things are destroyed, the cycle begins again: the actions confirm the beliefs and you prove that your myth is true.
What I want for you is the truth and the key to your true, happy self. Once you understand the stage your life set up for you, the conditions that created the decisions you’ve made, everything else will become clear. Whatever needs to be done in your life will be apparent and you can tackle them one at a time.
You will do whatever has to be done to make it right, because you will understand why and that will free you from the myth. You will make sense to yourself. That learning is in fact a great relief because the answer you will discover is not, “I am just a crappy person.” You will learn the action is logical for a person who has lived your exact life experience. Once you reach that place of understanding–you can decide what you believe should be done next to right it, if anything. But you are not there yet, so don’t worry.
Just start with a decision to understand who you are and to live your life. To be intimate, to be happy, and be relieved of this pain. To grow that bulletproof trust in yourself that only comes with this knowledge. Know that the painful part is holding onto this thing and letting it define you. It’s so much worse than looking at yourself, processing why, letting go and moving on. And it means you grow into a richer more beautiful person as a result.
Know that whatever pain you are feeling is because you are good. The pain comes from a conflict inside yourself: I hurt myself by acting against what I believe. You have the ability to change your life today. Decide to live it whole and happily. To begin, I suggest a journal exercise. Write to yourself about your dream for yourself–what kind of person you want to be and what kind of life you want to lead. Commit to that dream and commit to loving yourself and understanding yourself. Because you get to become exactly who you want to be. It starts with that intention, and then action. Your life is worth it.
I hope this helped in some way, and don’t forget to smile lovely people!
Featured image via Flickr