Photo by Robert J. Morales
“There is power in believing, as well as not believing, in yourself.”
This is the first in a series of articles on what I believe to be one of the most serious and least discussed issues we all face and that is none other than emotions of shame. Not only does it create feelings of complete unworthiness, it also is the culprit behind extreme arrogance and conceit. What may be its most insidious trait is that it continues to grow and strengthen its grip on people while most don’t even realize it’s happening.
The first step in this process is to make sure the definition of shame is clearly understood. When asked to define shame, often the word guilt is included. However, there is an important distinction between the two and recognizing that difference is vital in healing the damage shame has heaped on us over the course of our lives.
In short, guilt is feeling badly about making a wrong decision, a mistake or a bad choice. Guilty feelings can be a moral compass of sorts because it will remind us in the future to take different actions. Shame, on the other hand, is a bad feeling about ourselves. We can’t help but make those mistakes or bad choices because WE somehow are no good, not worthy, or a host of other negative ideas we’ve been told about who we are. With guilt, there is a possibility of change but shame doesn’t allow growth because of what or who we believe we are.
Shame is a self-reinforcing emotion and actually thrives each time we experience it.
It is a feeling that we as humans should try never to experience on a personal basis. While there are other ways of experiencing this emotion, these do not affect us in as damaging a manner. Perhaps one may be ashamed to be a part of a group, family, or some kind of association. That type of shame doesn’t confine and defeat us as when we are ashamed of ourselves. For the purpose of healing and self-growth, it’s essential to understand that shame is the negative things which we’ve come to believe about who we were and are.
The reason for so much emphasis on understanding this distinction comes from my own personal experience. I will always remember, February 22, 2013, sitting across from my therapist, Dr. Shannon Smith, when that realization hit me. I finally understood that most of my own problems were based on the negative things I believed about who I was. Others certainly helped influence those beliefs but ultimately, I was the one who had to fully believe those lies in order to make them true.
Over the next several posts, I’ll be sharing my experiences as well as some who were brave and vulnerable enough to allow me to share theirs. In 2015, I completed a book on the subject which was Inspired by and dedicated to my therapist. What I didn’t know before I began was that writing this book would help me better understand my own journey and inspire me to begin helping others. In short, it changed the direction of my life’s work.
Next week, we will feature a story of someone who realized how her own shame was a major stumbling block in her life. Until then, if you have any question how you may be impacted by yours, feel free to contact me directly. My thanks to Robert J. Morales for the photograph. His website is filled with hundreds of great photos.