May 9, 2020

The Rules of Shame Fighting: Shut the Door & Throw away the Key.


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Last week, I met with a life coach for the first time.

I have spent several years as a social worker and therapist working in management, and to be frank, I found it to be a little bit miserable. I found myself stuck in a pattern taking management job after management job despite the (no longer) small voice in my head screaming at me to get out. I deeply desired to go back to work on the “ground level” as a clinician.

As my life coach and I were working through the steps I would take to complete my goal of stepping out of the management realm, I found myself asking, “What if shame steps in and stops me, tells me I’m not good enough, that I can’t do it, that I’m not worth it?

Without missing a beat, my life coach replied, “Tell shame to wait outside the door, tell shame you have work to do and it cannot come back into the room until you’re done.”

As a therapist and a habitual deep thinker, hearing my life coach simply say “tell shame to wait outside of the door” sent my brain into a frenzied state similar to a snow globe after it has been shaken up. In my career, I had spent months working with clients around single events that caused such distressing shame, it often paralyzed them in a state of depression and anxiety, so the idea that you could simply shut the door in shame’s face like it was some annoying solicitor was hard to imagine.

“How do I do that,” I asked?

He looked at me steadily and replied, “You’ve done it before. You did it each time you applied for a job even though you were scared and unsure. You did it when you completed college with crippling social anxiety. You did it every time you proceeded to do something to better yourself or those around you, despite the fear you were feeling. In those moments, you chose to ignore the voice in your head that told you that you weren’t good enough or worthy enough and did it anyways. You told shame to wait on the other side, so you could do what you needed to do.”

He was right, in those moments of self-doubt and negative self-talk, when I didn’t think I could go any further, I not only told shame to wait outside, but I locked the deadbolt and moved the dresser in front of the door. I loved the idea that I could take control of my shame if only long enough to face my fears.

I want you to imagine what your life would be like if you could tell shame to wait outside the door until you were finished achieving what you wanted to achieve. What would your life be like if you never had to worry about what other people thought or how those thoughts made you feel? What risks would you take? What person would you become who’s different from who you are now?

After I left our session that evening, I spent time reflecting on what we had spoken about and what I often refer to clients as the “The rules of shame fighting.”

The rules of shame fighting:

1. Shame is the passenger, but you are the driver. 

Shame is a human experience and it’s inevitable. As we grow from children to adults, we are taught by caregivers, society, authority figures, and cultural standards what is acceptable and what is not acceptable—which relates to everything from how we dress to how we chose to express ourselves. If we receive a steady stream of negative messages or criticism from the people we love or look up to, we internalize those messages to be true about ourselves.

However, just as we can internalize those messages, we can slowly chip away at those negative thoughts by putting our dear old friend shame into the passenger seat. The next time you hear that small voice of doubt and self-judgement creep in, ask yourself, “What sparked this feeling?” Are you noticing patterns around these feelings of shame? If so, take a moment and connect with those memories that have led to these patterns of shame. When we shine a light on the why behind our thoughts, we begin reclaiming pieces of our power back.

2. You get to exist as you are without apologies.

Yup. It sounds cliché, but it’s true. Whomever, however, you chose to exit in this world is a beautiful and unique thing. You don’t ever have to apologize for the space you hold or the person you are. If shame steps in and tells you otherwise, remind it that the people who love, adore, and admire you, do so for the parts of you that are genuine and real—despite any of those parts that may be labeled as bad, wrong, strange, or different by society.

3.  Let that sh*t out.

Shame is a small voice that appears in the back of our minds, sending sneaky little whispers that we’re not good enough, that our very existence is bad or wrong. If shame is not shared, spoken out loud, or witnessed by others—and if we don’t let it out to breathe occasionally—it festers and grows inside of us, propelling low self-esteem. As our self-esteem deteriorates our shame grows and those whispers turn into internalized constants and values that we hold to be true about ourselves.

Find safe ways to verbalize the shame you are feeling, whether that’s through journaling, talking to friends, or therapists—take time to talk about your shame. Once you start verbalizing your shame you will notice two things:

>> Everyone experiences similar thoughts of shame and self-doubt, you are not alone. It is the human experience to doubt ourselves, but equally so, it is the human experience to desire to be loved and appreciated for who you are.

>> As you shine a light on shame and talk about it more, it loses its power over you. Those closest to you will reflect back your own words allowing you to question the reality of those thoughts. Those who love you, will challenge those negative beliefs you hold true about yourself.

4. Last, but not least, practice self-love constantly.

Every time you hear shame sneak in, I want you to counter it with compassion and self-love. Did your brain just tell you you’ll never get the job because you’re not good enough? Smart enough? Turn around and tell your shame all the reasons you’re qualified and exceptional. Over time, challenging your thoughts over and over again with self-love will lead to automatic shifts in the way you think about yourself—and the thoughts of self-compassion and love will flow without effort.

As I make the journey to change paths in my career, I constantly remind myself that with the fear and self-doubt I feel—and despite the fear and self-doubt I feel—I will continue to move forward. To be afraid and still move forward is courage and vulnerability, and vulnerability leads to growth, fulfillment, and wholeness.

So, the next time you’re preparing to take a leap of courage and that little voice of self-doubt sneaks around the corner, I want you to turn around and demand it wait outside while you do what you want and need to do.

And deadbolt that door. Hell, if you’re feeling really determined, throw the key in the fish bowl. You’re worth it.




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