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Shame…the silent killer.
It is not psychological only, it is also physical.
It is one of the root causes of social anxiety.
When your body feels shame, it might start to shake; your heartbeat may increase, you may start sweating, you may feel like you’re shrinking, you may not be able to speak, you may start to stammer, and you may not be able to form eye contact.
Different people react differently when they feel shame.
Whether it is the shame as per judgements of other people that you feel, or due to self-judgement, people feel shame for many reasons, and this is one of those feelings that can break us down inside. It can make us hollow. It can eat our confidence and self-esteem. We walk around the world with a fear: “What if people get to know about the thing that makes me feel shame?”
One of my clients says she is ashamed about her second marriage. She feels people may be judging her about it. Although she is happy in her second marriage and feels happy to have left her first toxic marriage, she is still carrying shame with her all the time.
Another client tells me that she is ashamed about her bulky body. She feels people may be making fun of her body weight.
One person feels ashamed to have dark skin; another one is ashamed to be unmarried at the age of 35; another is ashamed to be single. Someone else is ashamed to be of lower financial status than his girlfriend.
In all the above cases, when I asked them if anyone told them they should feel shame for these things, their answer was, “No.” They said, they “just feel it.”
One client of mine told me that he stopped going to family functions due to fear, “What if someone will ask me why I’m still not married at the age of 45?”
There are two types of shame people feel. One, which is inflicted by people around us, and another, which is when we feel ashamed of ourselves when we know we have done something wrong, or due to fear of judgement.
When you feel shame due to judgements made by people around you—mostly family, friends, teachers, or society—you feel helpless.
Some time ago, my son told me that he wants to get married to his girlfriend who he has been with for a long time. I asked my son’s girlfriend how her mother reacted to this news. She told me that her mother felt that she should date a couple of people and experience a variety of relationships to get experience before she decided to marry someone. She is American and my son is Indian.
When I heard her mother’s thoughts, it made me think how different my family’s mindset was when I was growing up. We were not allowed to even think or talk about boys when we were teenagers. My mother told us that applying makeup is a bad thing because it attracts unwanted attention. She did not allow us to wear revealing or fitted clothes as it showed the shape of the body.
I understand today that maybe that was her way to protect me. But I wish my mother told me to date a couple of people before I decided to marry someone.
It wasn’t only my family who had this kind of mentality, but also the people around the place where we lived. They believed that if any girl was dating a person before she married him, she was a “loose character.”
In India, girls were expected to marry someone chosen by their parents, and dating before marriage brought a lot of shame to the girl. Later in life, when I got exposed to the cultures of different countries, I realized that what is considered good in India may be considered bizarre in some other country.
For example: getting married to someone chosen by your parents is considered bizarre in some other countries.
I always felt like a misfit growing up, but as life progressed, I was automatically drawn to places and people where I felt, This is where I belong!
I was not judged anymore. I was cherished, respected, appreciated, and celebrated for who I am in my tribe.
Many people feel stuck at a place where they are feeling unfit in their surroundings, and they experience judgement. They feel they are the only one suffering. But it’s not true. Wherever you are, there are many people who are like you and are looking to connect with people like you.
When you hold on to wrong beliefs you picked up from people around you, you suffer and make others suffer too. It is so important for you to identify the wrong beliefs you carry within yourself to stop suffering. So if you feel helpless for the shame you are feeling, understand that your reasons for shame are not true.
The second type of shame is when you feel shame in your own eyes for doing something wrong intentionally or unintentionally.
Why would anyone do something wrong intentionally?
When anger or rage take over your mind and body, you do and say mean things. But when the wave of rage goes away, you realize how wrong you were. Sometimes, the actions you do in the fit of rage cannot be undone. Then you feel guilt.
Here is a step-by-step guide to get out of shame and reclaim your power and confidence:
1. Take a notebook to write in, and set aside at least 30 minutes where you will not be disturbed.
2. Close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and bring your focus to the place in your heart where you feel shame. Set an intention for facing the feeling of shame and healing the part that feels shame in you. You just have to say it in your mind to yourself.
3. Now, in your mind, go to the situation where you felt ashamed of yourself that still haunts you or affects you in some manner.
4. Relive that shameful moment from your life in your mind. Hear the words that are making you feel bad and shameful. Try to recognize the voice.
5. Write down the name of the person who is saying these words that are shaming you and your relationship with him/her. Now, write down the words she or he said to you to bring the feelings of shame in you. It is possible you hear your own voice, and you hear yourself telling yourself to feel shame for doing something. Note down the words that you hear in your mind.
6. Now, write down the following in your notebook: “She/He said such hurting things to me to bring shame to me because…” (write down what comes in your mind spontaneously).
In case you hear your own words, you can write, “I felt so ashamed of myself in my own eyes for doing this because…” (write down what comes to your mind spontaneously).
Make sure you don’t judge yourself while writing, and do not change what comes to your mind. If you are not sure about something, it’s okay. You can write it as, “not sure” or “maybe.”
7. Now, take this piece of paper from the notebook where you wrote, fold it, and place it in-between your hands, close your eyes, and say to yourself in your mind, “I release all the shame I have carried in my mind and body for so long. I no longer want it or need it. I release everything from my mind and body, known and unknown, which makes me feel I need to feel shame. As I burn this paper, all my shame is going to burn away forever.”
Now, go to a safe place and burn this paper. Feel what you said while you burn it, and watch the paper burn away until the end.
8. Thank the universe for letting the shame go away forever, and for making you free in your mind.
Whether you feel shame due to a judgemental environment or your own self-judgement, this psychological exercise will help you release all the built-in shame residing in your body and mind, and it will free you.
It is also a good idea to work with a therapist who is right for you, who can help you in your journey of healing.