Being able to say out loud that “I am not ashamed of myself anymore” is such a relief. And I can only do it because I finally feel comfortable admitting that there was a time that I was ashamed of myself. I’ve gone from living a life in hiding, caught up in my own perceived weirdness, to embracing who I truly am with open arms. And this transition is probably the most liberating feeling I have ever experienced. Here’s what helped me to let go of my shame and what may be able to help you too.
What causes you to feel ashamed
Let’s be honest, we are all only human and this means that, more than anything, we want to fit in, to be accepted and to feel loved. According to psychiatrist Joanna Cannon, the need for acceptance is a basic human instinct: we are all seeking a sense of belonging.
Shame can be subconscious
You might not know it but, in order to find this sense of belonging, each time you walk into a new space you’ll take a look at the people around you, see what is perceived as ‘normal’ in your environment, then adjust the way you present yourself to better fit in. Sure, you may keep a handful of your original traits, so that you’re still ever-so-slightly, uniquely yourself, but never enough that you stand out too much.
We all have subconscious shame
Who, me? Yes, you! You may not necessarily be “trying” to fit in; these changes are, more often than not, happening almost entirely on a subconscious level. This means that you don’t need to be striving to act normal or even be aware of your behavioral changes, it just happens!
The origin of shame? Learning how to behave
If I look back at my own upbringing, I can confidently place my finger on those moments when the groundwork of feeling ashamed of myself was laid. They were the moments where I was reprimanded for shrieking, jumping around and being loud; I was told to behave. I’m definitely not criticizing my parents, they were just parenting, but this behavioral conditioning is often the origin of shame for so many of us. To tackle the issue of subconscious shame, it’s essential to get a grasp on all there is to it and, in my opinion, the origins of shame can commonly be found in early conditioning; in learning to behave.
The next level of shame: attending high school
Let’s fast-forward to your teenage years, where you probably experienced your fair share of worries about creating friendships and fitting in with various high school cliques. If feelings of shame weren’t triggered as a child, then they likely were in high school halls. Why? Because our brains were developing quickly during the tempestuous teenage years and we were rife with emotional and mental fluctuations that preyed on our insecurities. And what is the best way to combat insecurity? Why, by hiding your uniqueness and trying to fit in, of course.
Dig deeper into your shame
If something is making you uncomfortable, it’s probably because you’re putting yourself in a situation that doesn’t align with your innermost needs. For me, this was 100% the case when I was running a company; I felt like a total fraud. Even though I was very good at my job, when I look back now I can clearly see just how much I was struggling with imposter syndrome.
How being ashamed of myself led to imposter syndrome
I was striving, every day, to be someone I simply wasn’t and ultimately that job didn’t align with who I truly am. So, the imposter syndrome did make sense, after all, because this job triggered me to amplify certain traits while downplaying others, instead of being my comfortable self. I realized I’m not a #bosslady leader; I am an introverted individual who likes to write in her PJ’s and thrives on spending a fair share of the day by herself. So, dig deeper into your shame, it might very well be your intuition trying to tell you that you are hiding who you truly are. Dare to be you!
Shame can take on many forms
Brené Brown offers insightful vulnerability questions in her Ted Talk Listening to Shame. According to Brown, shame has us caught in a web and we’re continually bouncing between ‘I am never good enough’ and ‘who do you think you are’. So, to understand shame, you need to become aware of all its forms.
Shed your shame in 7 steps
The following 7 steps help you understand your shame and then, embrace your uniqueness.
1. Questions to detect your shame
According to Brown, the three things that fuel feelings of shame are secrecy, silence, and judgment. If you put that knowledge into practice, you can use these aspects to better understand your shame:
- Are you hiding certain parts of yourself, because hiding them feels convenient, and helps you to avoid conflict or even keeps you safe?
- Are you deliberately staying silent about certain aspects of your life, or holding back on sharing your opinions?
- Are you constantly judging and rejecting specific factors, feelings and thoughts?
Reflecting on these questions frequently can help you better understand your shame. Even better, writing your thoughts down in a journal gives you a safe space to explore any thoughts and feelings around your shame.
2. Speak about your shame
Shamefulness is circular; we feel ashamed, so we hide who we truly are, and the more we hide the more ashamed we feel. Break the circle by speaking up about it. Now, that may sound easier said than done; being vulnerable may very well make you feel anxious and afraid. But you don’t have to get up on stage and share your deepest, darkest secrets with the whole world – test the waters with someone trusted and close to you first. These entry level discussions will help you get more comfortable talking about subjects that make you feel uncomfortable. You never know, that person might even feel relieved that you are creating a space to talk about shame.
3. More insights into the world of being ashamed
If you want to dig even deeper into the world of shame I’d recommend reading Brené Brown’s book I Thought It Was Just Me together with a trusted friend. On Brown’s website you can also download a mindful worksheet, so that you can start to better recognize your shame and work toward greater self-acceptance. The worksheet can be found under ‘Downloads’ > ‘Reading guides’. Look for ‘ITIWJM Making the Journey from “What Will People Think?” to “I Am Enough.”
4. It takes courage to accept that you’re unique
Why? Because being unique means you’re different and, in our minds, being different means, we’re not fitting in. Finding the courage to dare to be yourself doesn’t just arrive overnight but you can start by replacing the word ‘different’ with something more empowering, there-by removing the negative connotation. When good things start to happen in your mind, great things start to happen in your life and finding the courage to accept that you’re unique will come to you with increasing ease.
5. Embracing your uniqueness
These four steps help you to embrace your uniqueness:
- Acknowledgement. Allow yourself to truly feel your shame. Spend some time sitting with those feelings, no matter how uncomfortable they are. Jot them down and then seek support from a trusted companion.
- Acceptance. Once you are able to detect your feelings of shame, you can work towards acceptance. Acceptance begins when you break the circle; embrace your shame and stop hiding.
- Positive reinforcement. As soon as a shameful thought enters your mind, try to replace it with a more compassionate sentence that underlines your uniqueness.
- Repetition. Practicing this ‘embracing your uniqueness’ exercise often will let you tap into and utilize your very own wonderful, unique power. This allows you to start building more confidence around managing or even eliminating shamefulness.
Putting an end to being ashamed of myself is a work in progress
Throughout this process, it’s important that you are patient with yourself and the work you’re doing. I still have shameful thoughts enter my mind on many occasions. The difference is that now I cope with shame in a much more positive and proactive way: if a situation or conversation stirs up shameful feelings inside me I no longer react straight away, I take a beat to spend time with those feelings. I observe, analyze, and reflect. Then I take action by following the “embracing your uniqueness” exercise. For me, that has become an essential part of helping me manage my shame.
6. Allow yourself to be flawed in this process
The process of putting an end to shame might not always work the way you want it to. Distancing yourself from shame is a constant work in progress. In order to speak up and make the changes you seek, you need to allow yourself space to be flawed in the process. For example, I’m much better at sharing my thoughts through writing than I am at articulating them in face-to-face discussions. So, I’ll often share these in an, albeit rather long, text message to a friend. The communication method might not be ideal but at least I’m speaking up, sharing my thoughts, planting the seed for a new conversation and, ultimately, seeking support.
7. Sweet words for your shamefulness
On days that your shame begins to overwhelm you, you can practice using affirmations to drown out the inner critic in your mind. These sweet words might just be just what you need to silence shamefulness and cheer you up.
- Your struggles are what makes you, you. Find strength through your experiences: the good ones, and the bad.
- Your uniqueness is your superpower: no one can exactly be like you, think like you, do like you. Find comfort in being you.
- Don’t try to stand out or try to fit in. Your inner wisdom is already present; access that knowledge by seeking the power within.
Empowering affirmations helped me overcome feeling ashamed of myself
I use the following affirmations to underline my uniqueness instead of playing it down. Saying those empowering affirmations out loud triggers my mental process of cultivating confidence and appreciation for all that is me.
- My uniqueness is my strength
- There is no second me, I allow myself to feel unique
- I am proud of the unique thoughts in my mind
- I choose confidence over comparison
- I especially embrace my weirdness, it’s what makes me stand out
Checklist: how I let go of feeling ashamed of myself
- Understanding how situations and behavioral conditioning from my childhood, teenage years, and twenties influenced my feelings of shame.
- Acknowledging that I felt ashamed of myself for many different things, and on many different levels.
- Spending time with those feelings of shame, so that I can understand which parts of myself I needed to begin to accept.
- Working on embracing my uniqueness by seeking out an environment that highlights my strengths.
- Simultaneously, seeking distance from environments that trigger my shame and any feelings of incompetence (such as the #bosslady job and working 9 to 5).
- No longer questioning any contradictions in my personality and starting to cultivate appreciation for the unique mix of traits that is me.
- How I’ve stopped being ashamed of myself in seven words: acknowledge, accept, embrace, and reinforce uniqueness.
A list of things that triggered my embarrassment
To encourage you to speak up about your shame, I’ll share a few things that I have felt ashamed about. Here we go… 🙂
- Despite hundreds of hours of tennis training, I am anything but a ball-striker. As a matter of fact, if a ball suddenly sidetracks and comes my way, I’ll 100% duck away.
- I have the worst memory for things that I, most often subconsciously, have categorized as no life questions. Without a reminder, I’m destined to forget your birthday, my own dentist appointment, or that we are supposed to have a catch-up on the phone.
- I was (and sometimes still am!) ashamed of having bad posture (and with that, not having a six pack) and have only recently plucked up the courage to tap into the poor posture taboo.
Other ways that I feel or have felt ashamed of myself
- Throughout my twenties I used to drink a lot when going out on weekends if I felt stressed. I would often try to swap my tension with alcohol-induced feelings of relaxation.
- I feel ashamed of not being more attentive when visiting family members or friends. I won’t always remember to buy a present, even though I think I should.
- Further to this, my partner keeps reminding me that I don’t need to always bring a present. But I still feel very awkward arriving empty-handed (I literally don’t know what to do with my hands – which triggers me to question the reason for the gift itself; might I be using the present as a shield?).
Of course, these are just a few examples. There are many more things that have triggered and continue to trigger my shame. But, if anything, I hope my honesty encourages you to speak up and share your feelings with someone you trust. Because truthful conversations have the power to invoke real and lasting change.
Want to read more about being ashamed?
If you are learning how to accept yourself, you might want to read these gentle reminders for your self-love journey. For some out-of-the-box approaches to dealing with your shame, head over to Healthline’s article 3 Therapist-Approved Steps To Stop The ‘Self-Shame Spiral’. Bookworms can readily hop over to Goodreads’s Shelf with books on Shame. As a fellow bookworm, I can honestly say that spending time alone with words was crucial in overcoming feeling ashamed of myself.
Did you enjoy reading this post?
I sure hope you did 🙂 If you have any questions, recommendations, or experiences you want to share, I’d be more than happy to read your thoughts! You can leave your comment in the field below. Do you know someone who could benefit from reading how I learned not to be ashamed of myself? Feel free to share this post (via the URL bar or any of the social share buttons) and get the positive energy flowing!