Healing from shame is a two part process. The first part is to find the sources of your shame. Take your time in figuring out exactly which source(s) of shame applies to you and your life. This is a process that cannot be rushed and needs to be completed in detail in order to really understand your shame. Once you have done that, you can start the action phase of healing from shame which consists of five steps. It will take time to go through the steps. You might fall down between steps or even have a few relapses back into shame. When that happens, have compassion for yourself. You have lived with shame for so long that it will take a few tries to start healing from it. Here are the steps that you can take to heal from shame.
1. Get Help.
Part of shame is isolation from others. The problem with this process is that you don't give yourself a chance to have positive interactions with others because you are isolated. So, the first step in healing from shame is to get help. You don't have to go through this process alone. Of course, a mental health professional is a great source of help. However, talking to a close healthy friend or family member about your experiences with shame can also be a great start.
2. Challenge the Shame.
Identify your strongest shameful thoughts and try to create some healthy, gentle ways to challenge them. Create a few positive self-talk phrases you can tell yourself when your shameful thought arises. You will feel uncomfortable doing this and that's to be expected. The shameful thoughts have been present for so long that they are the comfortable ones. You will feel like a fake when you first start doing this. But given time and consistent use of more positive self-talk will eventually result in you being gentler and more compassionate with yourself which will help you heal from shame.
3. Set Positive Goals.
Of course part of healing from shame is creating positive goals for yourself so that you start to feel forward motion and progress. Make sure your goals are based on humanity, humility, autonomy, and competence. Make goals that are actually achievable. In terms of humanity, make your goals human goals such as creating friendships, reaching out to people you miss, etc... In terms of humility, make goals that are gentle and humble for example calling a friend this week. Make it something small and attainable. In terms of autonomy, make the goals something that you can do without having to rely on anyone else such as calling a friend. Finally, in terms of competence, make sure it's something that you can actually do. If you set goals based on these four principals you are well on your way to meeting your goals.
4. Take Action to Move Towards Your Goals.
Now that you have created your goals, it's time to start moving towards them. It's time to identify small, realistic steps you can take towards your goals. Be gentle and compassionate with yourself. If you manage to take a small step then celebrate your achievement. Praise yourself for having taken a step towards your goals. It's OK if it takes you some time to move towards your goals as long as you keep moving.
5. Review Progress Regularly.
This is probably the most important step of all. Review your progress at least each month. Sit down with yourself, review your goals, and the steps that you have taken towards your goals. Remind yourself of where you were the previous month and see how far you have come. Celebrate each small achievement. It is easy for your shame to take over during these reviews and beat yourself up for not having come as far as you had hoped. But any step forward, no matter how small, is a positive step towards healing from shame. Remember that it will take time to heal from your shame. It has been a part of your life for decades so it will take some time to reduce it's effects.
I hope that this month's focus on shame and how to heal from it has been helpful for you. Please feel free to reach out if shame is a consistent part of your life and if you would like help in healing from it. Everything that you have read about in this blog was derived from the book Letting Go of Shame by Ronald Potter-Efron and Patricia Potter-Efron. We have no personal or professional stake in this book; it's just a good book. Since shame has been coming up more and more frequently in our work with clients we decided to spotlight this emotion (and this book) this month in order to bring more awareness to the powers of shame. I've also included an infographic below for you to print out and use throughout your day should you want a more physical reminder of what you are working on. We continue to accept new clients from Illinois (Chicago), California (Los Angeles, San Diego, Orange County, Santa Barbara, San Francisco, Sacramento), and outside of the USA (Canada, Australia, New Zealand, England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, United Kingdom, Germany, France, Spain, Mexico).
Written by Linda Meier Abdelsayed, LMFT
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