Overcoming Shame

Shame is a feeling we get when something brings censure or reproach.  Most people experience it.  Shame is universal.  None of us measure up to the countless standards of perfection that exist.  When we do not measure up to a standard that is important to us we feel a painful emotion caused by consciousness of guilt or a condition of humiliating disgrace; we feel shame.

Guilt is a bad feeling we experience when we do something wrong.  While guilt can be dealt with quickly and easily, we seem to get stuck with our shame since it is perceived to be who we are.   Though that perception may be inaccurate, there is no way out until we choose to change our beliefs about self.

Even though we attempt to hide our feelings of shame we usually believe that others can see through our façade and into our defectiveness.  Shame leads to hopelessness that no matter what we do we cannot measure up.  We tend to isolate ourselves and become lonely.  We feel alone with our shame, cut off from others.  What is worse is that we may say, “I can’t stand hearing how bad I am,” or “I’m afraid to tell you about my shame because if I do, you will think I’m bad and I can’t stand hearing how bad I am.”  So not only do we keep it to ourselves, we often block it out or pretend it’s not there.

One of the ways some people cope is to act out roles that disguise their shame; it serves a useful purpose of protecting their ego or pride. It may even help them to save face.  These pretenses act as a defense against the feelings of shame.  But even though they may skillfully defend themselves against the shame, it can be seen by others when they hang their head, slump down, avoid eye contact or apologize for having needs and desires.  Those with shame may occasionally feel nauseous, cold, withdrawn and at times alienated.  But no matter how well we may defend ourselves against it, the shame will not go away, unless we learn what it is, confront the source and choose to dismantle it.

Our shame seems to come from what we do with the negative messages and affirmations, beliefs and rules that we heard as we grew up.  We hear these from our parents, guardians, older relatives or other people in authority, such as teachers and coaches.  Even friend may put us down and cause feelings of inadequacy.  These messages basically tell us that we are somehow defective or unworthy, that we are not acceptable.  But the fact is, we are all worthy.  God created us to be worthy.  You have control over what you believe and what you think about.  You do not have to feel shame; it is your choice, shame or no shame.