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An Open Letter to Anyone Who Has Felt Shame

Shame. Noun. The painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior. The “researcher-storyteller”, Brené Brown, defines shame as “fear of disconnection”.

Shame is said to be synonymous with embarrassment, humiliation, guilt. But for many of us, the feeling of shame transcends semantics. Shame is not guilt. Guilt happens to us once we acknowledge or regret something we have done. Shame is from within.

In situations where you feel you cannot fully self-disclose, shame is the dissonance you feel. Shame is what makes you adopt the facade you feel is far safer to put out there. We have all experienced situations where you have to put aside pillars of your identity because of this toxic feeling, many putting them aside for their lifetime.

In her book, ‘I Thought It Was Just Me: Women Reclaiming Power and Courage in a Culture of Shame’, Brené says,

Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change.

The dangerous thing about shame is the fact that we are raised into and taught to associate basic human needs, desires and functions with it. From abusive or overly critical parenting, to an absence of consistent and loving figures, we all develop shame about our bodies, eating habits, gender or sexual identity, sex and equally as dangerously, the shame about seeking help. This makes it beyond understandable that many go through their lives living within the confines of shame. And just as it begins from within, it can only be remedied from within.

It seems intuitive to begin by acknowledging and addressing the external variables that are contributing to this feeling. Toxic people, events or trauma you haven’t come to terms with, the beliefs you hold as inherently and unchangeably you, and many many more. This allows you to reach some form of acceptance and reconciliation within yourself. And despite this being step one, it is a continuous process that you can teach yourself to become conscious of.

Shame can often manifest alongside a lot of anger or resentment. This is usually due to the dissonance you experience between your authentic self and the self you feel you can present to the world around you. It’s not possible to get to a point where you have fully disclosed everything you are but it’s incredibly helpful to know what that ‘you’ consists of and to not deny yourself the experiences you feel you need and can thrive within.

And finally, remember to have compassion for yourself. Self-care and self-help are words we’ve been conditioned to dismiss, ignore and ridicule because of how often they bombard us in superficial forms, but there’s a reason it’s everywhere. Because it works. Listen to yourself the way you would to those you care about. Let go of the preconceived judgements you have towards yourself and be tolerant. Learn to let go of the need for control; control over what others perceive you to be, control over making your identity a digestible and unrecognizable form of who you really are.
Letting go of shame is a process, but it is a worthwhile process.

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