Shame is different from guilt in that shame convinces you that you are a bad person because of what happened. There are various sources of shame. When it comes to trauma, shame can come from self-criticism of something that was not under your control. We can also feel shame outside of trauma that may come from critical parents, peer interactions, places of worship, or cultural expectations. Many individuals have the capacity to be critical of themselves as well and this continued criticism can leave a lasting sense of feeling defective. And unfortunately, the more we hide our shame in secrecy the more shameful it feels.
How Do We Recover from Shame?
The first step is to recognize where shame shows up in your life. Does it show up in the way you talk about yourself? The way you interact with others? The confidence you have in your own abilities? Once we recognize where shame shows up, we can pinpoint more effectively where this shame may be coming from. Getting to the root of the thing we are feeling shameful about can be insightful and can lead to healing it from the core. Talking about shame may be hard, but it's so important. As stated, the more we hide the more our shame is reinforced. Talk through it with friends, family, your therapist to help you uncover the origins of this shame.
Once the origin and contents of our shame are understood, compassion is the next vital step. Self-compassion is the ability to be able to give yourself space to just be. To be a human being with flaws and with missteps. To be a person who has limitations. One way to help ourselves be more compassionate is to be curious about our thoughts and behaviors rather than critical. For example, if we overslept for work one day instead of telling ourselves 'you're so dumb you didn't set your alarm this morning!' we could ask ourselves with compassion 'what was I going through last night that might have made me miss setting my alarm?'
Phases of Forgiveness
Forgiveness is not only reserved for others. Sometimes we need to forgive ourselves too. Below are the four stages of forgiveness that we can use to work towards self-forgiveness to heal our shame:
"The Uncovering Phase. During the first phase of forgiveness, you will improve your understanding of the shame, and how it has impacted your life.
The Decision Phase. During the second phase, you will gain a deeper understanding of what forgiveness is, and make the decision to choose or reject forgiveness as an option for yourself.
The Work Phase. During the third phase, you will start to understand yourself in a new way, which will allow positive feelings to come forward. Use curiosity.
The Deepening Phase. During the final phase of forgiveness, you will further decrease the negative emotions associated with the shame. You may find meaning in the experiences, and recognize ways in which you have grown as a result" (TherapistAid).
What could you do today to help yourself recover from shame?
Therapist Aid. (2017). Forgiveness Information Sheet. Retrieved from https://www.therapistaid.com/worksheets/forgiveness-therapy.pdf