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Why feelings of shame can be a burden - and how to break through it

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The time you unsuspectingly headed back to your desk from the toilet – with your skirt in your tights. When your friends wanted to go on a weekend trip, but you really couldn’t afford to. That time on that wedding full of happy couples, where you were the only single person. Or today, when you realized that you have been seeing a therapist for several years now. Whatever it is, we all feel ashamed sometimes.

The feeling itself is always connected to being different (or making different choices). When you’re feeling ashamed, you’re very aware that you’re different because of something you do or who you are. It is frightening, because people might disapprove, or even reject you.

Why shame is useful

‘Never be ashamed! There’s some who’ll hold it against you, but they’re not worth bothering with,’ said writer J.K. Rowling. A beautiful pursuit, but banishing shame from your life is impossible. Feeling ashamed every once in a while isn’t just human, it’s useful too: every time we do something that’s inadvisable, from a social point of view, the unpleasant feeling prevents us from doing it again.  

Then again, shame is something you can overdo. That’s when you avoid certain situations (and never enter a beach wearing a bikini) or compensate by shouting from the rooftops (telling everyone that you absolutely loooove being single, because ‘relationships are so overrated!’).

Share your feelings, it helps

How do you prevent feelings of shame from bothering you? By doing the opposite of what you would naturally tend to do. Don’t hide what you’re ashamed of, don’t deny you feel embarrassed, but open up. Tell people you trust about your feelings. It helps you to put shame in perspective and makes it lighter, because either you find that they think your shame is unnecessary, or they tell you about the things they are embarrassed about. Also, because they’ll sympathize with you.

The antidote to shame

Brené Brown, the figure head of vulnerability, put it like this in one of her TEDtalks (see below): ‘If we’re going to find our way out of shame and back to eachother, we need to know empathy, because empathy is the antidote to shame. If you put shame in a Petri dish, it needs three things to grow exponentially: secrecy, silence and judgment. If you put the same amount of shame in a Petri dish and douse it with empathy, it can’t survive. The two most powerful words when we’re in a struggle: me too.’

Dare to be vulnerable

If you’re afraid of being rejected, it’s worth examining that feeling. Take a good look at the people who are the closest to you. You’ll probably find that you gathered these people around you for a reason. Dare to trust them. It’s an investment in the future: if you have the guts to be vulnerable, the people you attract will be the right ones for you – they’ll stay, because they really know you.

 

Photo: Alef Vinicius