Day 357: How to Let Go of Shame

Wow!  That’s quite a title, isn’t it?

First, let’s define shame, by comparing it to our old friend, guilt.

Guilt is “I did something wrong or bad.”   Shame is “I am wrong or bad.”*

I can’t remember — if I ever knew —  who originally came up with that definition. Feel free to do the research and get back to me.

The first time I heard that definition, though, I knew, “That’s it!”  And whenever I tell people that definition, I see recognition in their eyes, too.

And while some people have told me they believe that guilt serves a purpose,* NOBODY has ever sung the praises of shame.

So, readers, I hope we all agree that letting go of shame, right now, would be a good thing.

Agreed?

Okay, let’s do it!

One, two, three, GO!!!!!!

Hmmmmmmm.

There’s the rub, isn’t it?  It’s tough to let go of shame. It sticks.  It holds on, for dear life.

I haven’t quite figured out why it’s so difficult to let go of shame.  I do know that people come into my office, day after day, and use terrible words like “worthless,” “unlovable,” and “loser” to  describe themselves. Those are sure signs that shame is in the house.

Imagine, for a moment, somebody you love being called names like that.  Wouldn’t you be FURIOUS?  I’m outraged right now.  Angry. Pissed off.**  And I get upset every time I hear somebody in my office using words, like those, to describe themselves.

Let me be clear. I don’t get angry at the person, for having the shame. I get angry at the shame and the toll that it takes on people.

I feel like I’m writing in circles, this morning.

Because what I REALLY want to do is to figure out a way that we can let go of shame.

Actually, that’s probably a great description of what I do, for work.  However, that doesn’t make the catchiest business card in the world, does it?

Ann Koplow

Trying her damnedest to help you let go of shame

If I ever go into the therapy business for myself, I’m definitely going to have to work on that slogan. For now, I’d like to help you let go of shame, a little bit more, today.

Actually, if you really do agree with me that shame holds you back, makes you feel bad, and is not helping you right now, that would be progress.That’s the first, and most important step. The rest is just details.

As some people say, though, the devil is in the details.  So let’s try this. Ask yourself some questions, about your shame. For example: Where does your shame live?  Can you describe it?  For example, does it have colors, a shape, a size? How else might you describe it, using your senses? Often when we “externalize” something like that — put words on it, compare it to things that are familiar — it helps reduce its power.

Actually, when I was asking those questions, above, I imagined describing a perpetrator of some crime, to a criminal sketch artist.

Which reminds me, I haven’t used an image in this post yet. I just googled images for “shame,” and there’s not a lot of good choices, this morning. This was the only one I wanted to include:

Image***

Okay! I’ve got to run to work, so … what feels left unfinished, for me, about this post?

Just this:

Whenever we consider letting go of shame, shame can get really pissed off. Because, like I said above, it wants to hold on for dear life. Therefore, if any part of this post made you feel bad, I would recommend the following:

Be extra kind to yourself today.

And THAT, dear readers,  may very well be the answer.

Thanks to anybody who has ever felt shame and — of course! — to you, for reading today.


* Like this person, here.

** If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you might have speculated, right there, that I needed something to eat. You would have been correct.

*** And unless I’m mistaken, this seems to be from a website where somebody is advocating Embracing Your Shame. Figures.

Categories: inspiration, personal growth | Tags: , | 49 Comments

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49 thoughts on “Day 357: How to Let Go of Shame

  1. deweydecimalsbutler

    You’re so right. A lot of my shame comes from ye olde bullies. They really pack a punch.

    • Yes, ye olde bullies really do pack a punch, no matter who those bullies are. Thanks for punching back today, with your comment!

  2. Shame is your conscience catching up to your actions, Ann. It’s the natural act of living with the consequences. You must let go of it, but acknowledging it at the start is a good thing, I believe, and will help you avoid said circumstance the next time.

  3. Janis Moulton

    Love the blog. Love the poor ashamed bear. Love the business card….I would seek your services!

  4. Janis Moulton

    Oh also, Ann, please allow me to share a story of how this topic and your wisdom is very timely for me this morning. Yesterday I posted what I thought was a funny, uplifting video on Facebook, featuring a little old lady dancing her heart out. I received positive feedback from several friends. Then, my brother-in-law posted a mood killer comment about it, pointing out that the woman used profanity. It was at the end of the film and I hadn’t even watched it to the end. This relative had never once posted anything positive, or otherwise on my page..Had no idea he even looked at my activities. My first reaction was to feel guilty and delete the video. It took a lot of thinking and self-talk to realize that I had nothing to feel bad about, and that he was being a bully. I reposted the video, as a gift to myself, confirming that I am not a bad person. My “bully” is the one who needs to examine his heart, especially since he is a minister. In the end I felt a lot of middle school angst over a silly little thing that didn’t matter at all in the scheme of life, but it reminded me how often I automatically judge myself more harshly than I would anyone else. Your thoughts this morning were a needed reminder too. Thank you.

  5. “Because what I REALLY want to do is to figure out a way that we can let go of shame”

    uhhhh, Ann, I don’t remember getting a royalty check for your use of ‘really’ in that sentence…WTH?? lol

    Seriously though, at the risk of sounding clichéd, ‘shame’ is SO tied into culture; much of the shame we feel is connected to our cultural upbringing; whether Western Culture in general, or the particular culture of our own family life (parents, relatives, etc) and so for me the goal is to distinguish the origin of the shame in order to better understand it.

  6. Ann, this is fabulous! I struggle with this –and have ever since I can remember (4 years old…who know what happened before that?)

    • Thanks so much for visiting and for this fabulous comment. A lot of people struggle with this, I believe, and it often dates from their earliest memories.

  7. Great post!
    Happy holidays and a very Merry Christmas to you and yours from North Norfolk!
    Dina
    God jul! 🙂

  8. Howisbradley

    “Be extra kind to yourself today”
    That should be the first thing to come to mind for everyone each morning.
    I still have lots of shame I’m dealing with, but after years of therapy, its gotten better.

  9. Add me to the list of those who can relate to this, and have had these feelings of shame since childhood. I think your service would be in high demand. I know I’d be an eager client.

  10. Another “letting go” consideration, Ann, don’t attach to either in the first place. Neither are particularly constructive and serve little purpose other than to remain with the act/feeling. As dealing with the ego-mind, I choose to acknowledge shame or guilt when they present, take what value there is from either – if any, and then move on. For me, “wallowing in the mire” (thanks Jim Morrison) has so many more attractive alternatives. 🙂 Thanks for the worthy reflection!

  11. Jwoods

    I love the polar bear photo. It is a perfect image that captures the “shame moment”.

  12. * lying on your shrink couch (or has your couch shrunk ?)* 😉
    Hi Ann 😀 Yep, it’s those bullies that who should be stood up to, no matter how scary the victim may feel. Bring the shame onto the bullies for doing what they shouldn’t. Merry Christmas my friend. Ralph xox 😀

  13. I enjoyed this, mainly because I have always carried guilty along with some shame in the way I have made mistakes and not led the life my parents wished me to have. I made poor choices along the way, but it is always good to “put those fears, feelings of guilt and shame to rest!” I appreciate the kind words you closed your post with, too! Wishing you a holiday filled with joy and happy moments along with some wonderful memories, too. Robin

  14. hilarycustancegreen

    Hmm… I feel guilt a lot of the time (e.g. as I snuggle into bed and know that millions of people are cold and hungry and have no bed). I’m not sure about shame. I think I only feel it when I have done something mean or stupid, but only if I did it knowingly. I think you can battle shame by setting things right (admitting fault, saying sorry), then it lifts, but maybe I am defining it differently. I know feeling guilty is not helping anyone and sending money to those who work on the ground is rather minimal, so I find guilt more intractable but (as I think you suggest above or elsewhere), best counteracted by remembering what you did do to make others smile.

    • Hilary, I’m so glad you visited and commented today. I learned a lot from what you wrote. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  15. Merry Christmas, Ann. I’d like to give you this nomination because you are so darn good.
    http://markbialczak.com/2013/12/23/a-second-star-on-my-blog-of-the-year-award/

  16. Hmmm. I was hoping, at this point, to express thanks for nominations and perhaps make people happy in other ways. I can see why that may seem unfair. I am still trying to decide what to do about awards here. I’m not sure that I’m going to figure it out tonight. Thanks, Mark.

  17. Two in one night, Ann, because this Inventive Blogger Award has your name all over it.
    http://markbialczak.com/2013/12/24/i-add-the-inventive-blogger-award-to-my-trophy-case/

  18. You know, it’s interesting, because one of the things my middle daughter deals with is shame. I raised both daughters (19 months apart) exactly the same, but she turns legitimate guilt into shame. Go figure!

    On the other side of the coin, apparently there is a place for shame. Jeremiah in chapter 6, vs. 15 laments the absence of shame in a sinful people:

    14 They dress the wound of my people
    as though it were not serious.
    ‘Peace, peace,’ they say,
    when there is no peace.
    15 Are they ashamed of their detestable conduct?
    No, they have no shame at all;
    they do not even know how to blush.
    So they will fall among the fallen;
    they will be brought down when I punish them,”
    says the Lord.

    16 This is what the Lord says:

    “Stand at the crossroads and look;
    ask for the ancient paths,
    ask where the good way is, and walk in it,
    and you will find rest for your souls.
    But you said, ‘We will not walk in it.’”

    There are things we do which should cause us to feel shame. Or maybe the shame comes from doing things that are wrong and not recognizing our evil tendencies for what they are? … Perhaps the Hebrew word translated “shame” does not hold the same meaning as the one we use? I would have to look into Strong’s to find that out, and don’t have the time right at the moment. 🙂

    But thanks for making us think about a difficult topic, Ann!

    Merry Christmas!!
    -C

  19. I absolutely love the difference between shame and guilt. The most recent place I heard those definitions was from Brene Brown. I don’t know where she got them (although I bet if I cracked her book open, I could find out). Anyway, yes, finding a way to usher shame out the door is a tough one. For me, I wore shame as an invisible label across my forehead for decades. The label was “Used Goods.” As a tweenager I was repeatedly molested, and even before that, there were controlling and sexual behaviors that were wrought upon me.

    In my case, I was doing some hypnotherapy with the goal of losing weight, and at that point, I had not made the connection between being very overweight and it being a layer of protection for me. However, during one session, the hypnotherapist told me to think of something (I have no idea what), and all of a sudden, I was transported to the side of a mountain, in a complete snow white-out. A moment later there was someone behind me, and then I was enveloped by huge white wings of an angel. When I looked down on my body, it was clear plastic, and snow was swirling around inside of me, cleansing me. It was very intense and healing. Since that day, the label is gone from my forehead.

    I’ve asked a few people who can connect with spirit beings like angels, about this incident, and they confirmed that I really, truly had a healing from an angel. That said, I am a big proponent of hypnotherapy as a healing modality for things like shame and other deep seated emotions.

    • I am so glad you visited here and shared your experience. Thank you for your kind, thoughtful, and soulful remarks.

      I am happy to hear about your healing experience, and thrilled that the label is gone from your forehead. Yay!

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