Part I: A Journey of Awareness
What Holds Us Back: The Unstable Foundation
Day 10: Living In Our Shame
“Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change.”
Yesterday, I opened up the thought of our reality being the reflection of what is going on inside of us. Today, we are going to go into that list that I gave yesterday. Each bold title is an item from that list. I want you to see deeper into my perspective of thought and see if it rings true for you in your life. If it doesn’t, the added bonus is it may help you understand someone else’s behavior and thought patterns a little bit better. This is not a full list by any means, but it is enough to open our eyes and spot where and how we get caught up living in a shame cycle. The items below are some of the ways we live our shame:
If you don’t like your life
Shame tells us we don’t deserve a better life. We stay in unhealthy behavior and thought patterns to keep us prisoner of our unwanted lives. If anything goes beyond a level of happiness that we think we deserve, we unconsciously keep ourselves from getting and or keeping it. Our secret shame tells us we are unworthy of maintaining joy and happiness. We pick and choose belief systems to follow that fuel this thought. We use avoidance tools in order to not take any responsibility for what is going on inside of us. We keep projecting our shame (tomorrow’s topic), and expecting to get love and joy back in return, but then once again proving our belief system is right and our life sucks.
If you attack and gossip about others
When we fundamentally like and respect ourselves, we don’t feel the need to attack others for their imperfections. When shame isn’t living inside of us, we can see others as well as ourselves as humans. We aren’t going to do things perfectly all the time and we don’t need to measure ourselves up against others mistakes.
I used to read tabloid/gossip magazines and compare myself endlessly to the people that were being gossiped about. It didn’t matter if it was me thinking I was better off or worse off than the person. I let the attack and gossip feed into how I saw myself and others. I lived attacking and gossiping about others to feel better or worse about myself. That is letting shame take the wheel.
People will do this in relationships anytime they make personal attacks to hurt someone and make them feel small. We are trying to get the other person to feel as small as we do in the moment. We only do that if we are beating ourselves up inside. That is about us, not them.
If you think the world is against you
Why would the world be against you if you knew without a doubt that you were a good person? Things happen in our lives: trauma, tragedy, abandonment, natural disasters, illness, divorce, death, accidents, and many more. In the moment of the event we were victims. How we choose to live after that is determined on how we perceive the events. Will they be what tears us down and creates the thought process saying, the world is against me. Or, we learn to see what came from those tragedies and traumas and use it as momentum to build from. If we think the world is against us, we are living from a place of shame that says, I must not have done enough to have the world (The Creator, he/she) to like me. Something will happen and we say, SEE the world hates me. We miss the opportunity to learn from what happens to us and the events turn into messages of self-defeat. Shame loves us to be there.
If you attract abusive friends and partners (and keep them in your lives)
Something in the situations feels familiar. It could be from our childhoods. If we confuse love and fear like I wrote about in week 1 of this series, we may have formed the belief that abuse is apart of love. We excuse them from treating us poorly because we are a lot worse to ourselves than they are to us. The level of self-abuse and abuse from others has to match up or we wouldn’t stay in the situation. We made it ok for them to do because we were doing it to ourselves too. Hence, shame has wiggled into our life saying, see you deserve this. NO, you don’t!
We can tell a person a million times that they deserve better, but until the person on the receiving end of the abuse believes it at the core of their being, and stop abusing themselves in the process, they will stay in this devastating cycle. As an outsider it may be brutal to watch, but speaking from experience of being the person abused, when people would insist that I HAD to leave or tell me I was stupid for staying, it only made the shame cycle stronger. I felt trapped. I didn’t feel like I had a choice. That is what shame does. It blinds us to seeing choices and other perspectives.
When we start liking ourselves, the grip loosens and all the sudden, people, places, programs, and opportunities start showing up in our lives to help us find away out of the abuse in the safest way possible. If a person tries to go before they are genuinely ready, it can make matters worse. If the situation is life-threatening there is a level of support that is needed, but the person being abused has to be ready to commit to the process to protect themselves. Shame will does it’s best to keep the victim of abuse where they are. The abuse cycle is apart of the shame cycle for the abuser and the abused. The abuser is trying to make someone feel as small as they do. Only someone full of shame tries to make someone else feel small.
If you self-abuse
Self-abuse can be seen as calling ourselves awful names, self-mutilations (not to be confused with self-expression), demeaning self-talk, and putting ourselves in harm’s way. If there is self-abuse and we are telling ourselves we are unlovable and unworthy, we project that all over our lives. This is where we lose our identity in titles. We put our worth in the titles that we are, aren’t, and can be. We judge ourselves against which titles we’re not and/or which ones we are not living up to.
All forms of shame like telling us we’re not enough exactly how we are. We measure ourselves according to titles that others defined or that we convinced ourselves because of our comparisons and judgment to/of others. In order keep the shame cycle alive, we have to believe the perceptions of truth that we are being fed. We are in a vicious cycle of condemnation and I’m not enough. On day 8, I wrote about childhood traumas. They play out in our adult lives if we choose to live according to the beliefs that keep the shame alive.
Self-abuse is an open door to see our shame. If you look in the mirror and stay there, the truth about what you think of the person looking back at you will come out. Shame tells us we don’t have a choice in how we feel about ourselves because we are bad, bad, bad. If we liked ourselves we would be selfish and self-centered. The truth is the more we loath ourselves, the more selfish and self-centered we are. Not because we intend to be, but because we are caught up in the non-stop messages in our heads saying what to do and how to do it to get people to like us.
When shame has us we don’t do things for good reasons, we are doing things to seek value and importance. Someone with a healthy sense of worth, who loves and respects themselves will appreciate the validation, the accolades, and respect. They don’t need it to feel good about themselves. They know their worth and understand they deserve to feel good about what they do for themselves and others. They don’t force that feeling on someone else and say, you need to respect me! Healthy individuals have an energy field of respect and those of us who respect ourselves too can see it and appreciate it. We don’t feel less or more than another human being. We only do that when shame and fear have us in their grips.
If you engage in addictions
Addiction feed on us feeling badly about ourselves. We don’t want to look at ourselves so we escape into the world of addiction. We live our shame by constantly running from it. If we stop feeding our addiction we may fear being consumed by the shame. We mistakenly think that the shame is apart of who we are, when really the shame is just a perspective of thought we have chosen to believe in unconsciously.
Then we use our addictions to keep the story of our shame alive. It’s one of the most vicious cycles to break. When we are using chemicals like pills, alcohol, and other drugs we are actually changing our brain function. We not only have to face and work through the behavioral patterns of stopping the engagement with the addiction, but we have to work on tools to help to re-wire and re-frame how are brains are functioning on multiple levels.
If we choose to just stop engaging in the addiction, but continue to feed the shame cycle, we will stay stuck and trapped in our own behavior patterns that keep up believing the world sucks. In the world of recovery, they call this process being a dry drunk. It is the reason that success in the program depends on participants working the steps of the program. Recovering is not about just not picking up, whatever your addiction is, it’s about changing the thinking that got you picking up that substance in the first place. No matter what the addiction is, even if it is the addiction of rescuing people who don’t want to be rescued, you will live in the sickness until you face the shame that keeps you prisoner to your thought and behavioral patterns.
If you feel the need to numb yourself
We can do this with and/or without addictions. We are just trying to avoid looking too deep at ourselves from fear of what we will see looking back at us. We can actually use a tool called blame to help us numb and avoid the attention from being on us. I will start bring blame into the picture on Day 13 of this 90-Day A Better Me Series. We will also use things like casual relationships, TV, video games, reading, amongst others. It doesn’t mean if we are engaging in these activities that we are numbing ourselves.
The truth is in our intentions behind anything we do. We can do things for ourselves that look positive to the outside world, but inside the intentions tell a very different story. So, it’s not about the what as much as it is about the WHY. Just remember that the question of WHY is how we have come as far as we have in the Universal sphere of things. We can’t be afraid to ask ourselves why. When we are, we turn over the power to things like fear, shame, blame, judgment, and hate. We allow darkness in when we are scared to go beyond our own light. We get lost in the numbness of everyday life. We might feel like a cog in the wheel, or like we are just getting by on survival mode. We can only change the numbing cycle of living when we see the value in not living that way.
If you self-sabotage
I used to be the MASTER of self-sabotage! Oh boy could I ever turn something good into a disaster; to the point where I would physically hurt myself at least once a day. That is some serious power. I remember sitting in church, and being stopped in my tracks when the pastor said, “We will only allow ourselves to be as happy as we think we deserve.” He went on to say, that if we go beyond the point where we feel we deserve, we will sabotage that level of happiness from coming into our lives. I wish I could remember the name of this inspirational pastor, but fortunately his message lives on. He’s not the first to say this as I’ve read books over the years that have said the same things with a different twist, but it is the one that finally go through to the deepest levels of how I was living my life, to the point I could take it into my studies of psychology and the way I choose to live my life daily.
When shame has us we can sabotage anything in our lives like we are the champions of the world in that category. Hey, we want to show we are unlovable, let’s go for a person who is incapable of committing and/or showing us love. We’re not lovable so let’s take on more than we can handle at work to prove we are a disappointment. We aren’t worthy of recognition and/or respect; so let me prove it by continuously doing for others what they can do for themselves. WAIT, I want to be important to this person so let me lend them money that I can’t afford to lose. SELF-SABOTAGE, SELF-SABOTAGE, SELF-SABOTAGE! We put ourselves in position after position to get hurt. That is the power of living according to the messages of shame.
If you are a doormat in your life
I touched on this a little up above in the section about self-sabotage. If we are categorizing ourselves as a doormat, we often will blame others for this position, which I will cover more next week in the section on blame. We create our own titles to live by. Saying we are a doormat means we have laid ourselves down in front of someone one’s feet for them to walk on.
Someone who has self-respect and knows his or her own personal value doesn’t do that. A healthy life means we have healthy boundaries and self-care is essential. When we are trying to prove our worth by being someone’s doormat, we aren’t caring for ourselves and we are blaming them for it. The truth is we laid ourselves down, they just did what was natural when someone gives us something to wipe our feet on. How we treat ourselves is how the world will treat us.
There are a couple of sayings that encourage people to be doormats and then expect someone not walk on them. “Treat others as you want to be treated.” That sounds great, but that puts an expectation on someone else’s behavior, which we can’t control. We need to treat OURSELVES like we want to be treated. Guess what even if nobody besides you is treating you with love and respect, YOU ARE! Living the life as a doormat is a choice WE make for ourselves. No one else is responsible for that choice, and no one can change it but that person in the mirror.
Now, if you try to instantly change that doormat position without going inside and working on the shame that got you there. People see right through that and you will go right back to lying down in front of them. Heal the shame first, and people feel the energy of the change and they shift too, whether it’s towards you or away from you. I’ll talk about that in the weeks to come.
If you feel like you are being used by others
Shame tells us to take things personally. When I was a teenager, my mom said, “It’s none of your business what other people think of you.” It took me at least a decade to start understanding how true that statement was/is. I kept running away from situations where I felt used only to find myself in another one. I was living in my shame, so even though I changed states, careers, and boyfriends, I didn’t change me. I was used because I allowed myself to be put in the position to be used. I didn’t have healthy boundaries that spotted the red flags, then had the respect to walk away. I would see the red flags, but I wanted that person to like me. I was desperate for attention and affection.
When we are reaching, begging, and pleading for someone to love us and we feel like we are missing something because we don’t feel like we have the person we want, we are seeking to fill a hole that only one person is capable of filling. If anyone is thinking soul mate, STOP! The only person we are missing love from if we are desperately seeking it from the outside world is ourselves. The answer to any lack in our lives is in the mirror 100% of the time.
So if people are using us, we are living our shame. Our perceptions are very skewed when we are living here. Even if someone is not using us, they are simply accepting what we offer, like a healthy person would, we can perceive that as being used by them. If someone is acting from a healthy place, she/he doesn’t offer what he or she doesn’t genuinely want to give, and there is not expectation of receiving something in return. When we are healthy, we don’t give to people who take advantage, and if we do, we are completely AWARE of our actions so we don’t expect anything from them. We don’t create misery in our own lives because of things we choose to do.
If you give so much that you don’t take care of yourself
This one screams hidden shame at a very deep level. This is where we often find the messages that self-care is selfish. God, won’t love me if I’m self-centered. I’m supposed to give and not think about myself. Those are very painful perceptions to live by. If we don’t feel we have equal value to any other human and don’t deserve to treat ourselves the way we treat others, we have turned over our oxygen mask before putting on ourselves first.
We run ourselves ragged giving ourselves away. Some of us will go as far as to blame our spiritual practices, roles as a parent or spouse, and/or position in a company. Other people can’t make us give ourselves away (Obviously, I’m not talking about anything to do with a crime where it is a life or death situation and we are acting in pure survival mode). When it comes to our perceptions of how we are living our everyday lives, it is easy to shift blame and point fingers to justify why we do something. Underneath any finger pointing out, we are just avoiding looking in, because if we look inside we see that the only person responsible for making healthy choices is the person we live with every day from the cradle to the grave.
Shame is the scariest perception of truth we have to face. We have hid behind so much to avoid looking at and asking ourselves how we really feel about ourselves. If we don’t take the time to give ourselves some nurturing care, time to refuel, centering breaths, and general TLC, we are saying we don’t hold the value to give ourselves that time. If we say, there’s not enough time to take care of me, we have given ourselves away as if our own lives didn’t have the same value as everything else we give to. When we are acting from a healthy place and have self-love and self-respect, we put the oxygen masks on ourselves first in whatever way that means for us. We will go through all of that in PART III of the series. First, we have to be AWARE!
Just For Today
Think about where you may be living your shame. Try not to judge, just be the observer. I’m not asking anyone to take any kind of action.
With Love and Gratitude,
Rachael Wolff ©2019
Did you read today’s companion piece? 90-Day A Better Me Letters Series: Day 10 – Living My Shame