How to Heal Shame

Shame. Something that many people deal with at some point in their lives. We often pick it up in childhood (but it can happen in adulthood, often ignited by beliefs formed in childhood) from other people through their words and actions. Then we carry it as our own. And throughout our life, we will continue to recreate situations and/or dynamics that reinforce this shame we feel towards or about ourselves throughout adulthood.

The cycle of shame looks like this:

1. We have a shameful thought that enters the mind.

2. We then have a physiological reaction to that thought, activating an emotional response, because we believe that thought to be true.

3. Our neural pathways thus become strengthened over time because we continue to think and believe the shameful thoughts, as well as any shameful memories associated with those thoughts. We do not create a new experience, so we continue to believe these beliefs.

4. We then act out in harmful behaviors, to try and distract us from the emotional responses that overwhelm us (i.e., sex, binge eating, shopping etc).

To break the cycle of shame, we have to 1) reframe our thoughts until we believe the new thoughts and 2) recreate new, healthy behaviors and dynamics.

I have said this before: we rid of shame and build self-worth by keeping promises to ourselves. If we continue to act out in the same behaviors over and over again, we will continue to believe we are "incapable of change," "unworthy of love," "a bad person," etc.

Begin by journaling about your future self; your future self who does not struggle with shame. Write about how you may act, feel and think if you weren't consumed by shame. Then take a few minutes each day to imagine yourself acting, thinking and feeling this way. You are working to change the pathways in your brain to shift into ways of thinking that are not associated with shame. The brain does not know the difference between a real and imagined experience.

Your thoughts are not fact. You are just in the habit of believing them. Your shame is not your own. Continue to tell yourself this every time a shameful thought enters your mind. Release the expectation that your first thought will be a positive one. It won't be. However, you are in control of reframing your thoughts to realistic ones until you believe them. It takes as much energy to think negatively as it does to think positively. You are just in the habit of thinking negatively so it seems easier.

Then, write out the behaviors associated with your shameful beliefs (i.e., self-harm, over-sleeping, poor eating habits, seeking validation from others). Become aware of your patterns. Then when faced with these behaviors, take time to PAUSE. Pause before acting. Delay your reaction. Think about the consequences of your actions (i.e., reinforcing your shameful beliefs). And then, although you may not want to, replace the old behavior with a new, healthier one (i.e., exercise, mediation, journaling your feelings, calling a friend, going outside, choosing a healthier meal). This will take time and practice. You will not succeed each time, simply because you are a human being with a brain that likes to revert you back to what it knows. But as always, I promise it will work. Stick with it.

New mantra:

My thoughts are not fact.

I am in the habit of believing my thoughts. My shame is not my own.

I choose to release this shame and form the new habit of questioning my thoughts.

I will learn to sit with my thoughts and feelings.

I will breathe through them.

And learn new behaviors in response to them.

I have a choice in every new moment.

And I choose peace.

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