There had been lots of instances in my past when I had felt lost and unlovable. I couldn’t explain why, and I assumed it was my own fault and I couldn’t do anything about it. I was at this point again, when I realised that much of what I was feeling was what psychologists would recognise as ‘shame’. Sometimes, just being able to recognise the feelings you’re experiencing gives you just enough insight and strength to be able to start to handle them.
It was whilst reading Brene Brown’s fantastic book (Daring Greatly) and discovered the full and debilitating power of the concept of shame, a destructive and largely self-perpetuating emotion. I came to realise that the vast majority of the negative thought that I had imposed on myself throughout my childhood, my teenage years and into adulthood, were driven by my distorted perception of shame.
Like the time when my boyfriend dumped me without any explanation, the time I didn’t get the job I really wanted and the time I realised my marriage was over. To me, those events were not only somehow ‘my fault’, they were also evidence of my inadequacies. To make matters worse, I was constantly comparing myself to my friends, my peers and to society norms of how #successful people’ live and act. I didn’t stack up against my own expectations.
Wanting to take control of a problem I didn’t fully understand, I tried to become the perfect employee, daughter, wife and Mother. I was looking for the badges of approval that said that I was okay, that I was ‘enough’. Those badges don’t exist, and even if they had, I wouldn’t have felt worthy of them at the time.
I would over-think, over-analyse, over-work, try too hard and absorb every syllable of criticism, constructive or otherwise. I wore myself out trying to be ‘enough’, to the extent that my mental health was suffering.
Something, or rather someone, had to change, and that someone was me.
I’d allowed my feelings of inadequacy to become my automatic response, I was loosing myself to shame and it had to stop.
- The answer to the problem sounds too simplistic to be achievable and the type of thing only people with no experience of the matter says. Take it from me, there is only one answer and only you can do it. You have to teach yourself to love and respect yourself. Every day I handle my shame and yes, it does get easier.
Here are my 8 top tips and I use them daily
- I stick notes on my bathroom mirror, on my laptop and in my diary that remind me that I am ‘enough’. Where will you put yours? Be as creative as you can and enjoy the process. If you have children, encourage them to do the same.
- I give myself permission to get things ‘wrong’. This is where I learn the most and learn valuable life lessons.
- Closely linked to getting things wrong is failure. It’s ok to fail. If no one ever failed we’d stay the same, nothing would ever progress, think of all the miraculous discoveries man has made, most of them failed again and again before they had their eureka moment!
- I give myself permission to feel all emotion and not to be scared of ‘negative’ thoughts. Feeling sad, being upset, feeling angry and crying are not signs of weakness. Allow your children (especially boys) to feel and show their emotions too.
- I remind myself (again notes help) that I can change my mind and I can say ‘no’. Saying ‘no’ is difficult, particularly the first time you do it, but it gets easier with practise and relieves you of huge burdens of guilt and shame.
- When your body is screaming at you to listen, take a rest. Book a day off, switch your phone off and just give in.
- I try to spend as much time as I can with people who support me, are interested in my life, and who have common values. These people energise me and make me want to be strong enough to keep away from the people who criticise me and try to put me down.
- I remind myself every day that I’m the owner of my own happiness and I can love myself.
To handle your shame, learn to love and respect yourself today and every day. I did, and you can too.
Let me know what you think @couragequeen
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