Shame is when you feel unworthy to be loved or belong.
It lurks in the shadows and waits for the moment when you make a mistake so it can jump in and take over. Shame is not that I have done something bad (that’s guilt) – it is I am bad. I am the worse and no one will or should love me anymore.
It is like a Death Eater (for all Harry Potter fans) it sucks in all hope and positivity and only leaves loneliness, sadness, and despair.
Shame begins with the fear of disconnection and finally pushes us into that same hole.
So how do we not hear the shame monsters and fight back with our Patronus (shield)?
3 Steps To Combat Shame
Step 1 : Express
Shame thrives in silence and the first step to fighting it – is to express. It can be with sharing with your closest friends or family or even writing a journal.
Writing is a powerful tool and is acknowledged to heal all sorts of wounds.
Also, be wary with whom you share your stories. Let it be people who have been there for you and earned your trust. The people you can be vulnerable with and show your true self without hesitation.
And it all doesn’t have to be done in a day.
Because it takes great courage to be vulnerable. To let our true selves be seen by another.
What if they do not like us?
What if they do not accept us?
What if they laugh at us?
What if they think we are not good enough for them?
What if they leave us because know they know who we truly are.
But true family and friends never leave. And those who do leave were never real anyway.
And it’s painful and scary. I know and I understand.
We have protected this inner child of us by layers of trying to be detached, be cool and be unseen. To quiet down its voice because children are to be seen not heard.
But all we did was numb the pain by keeping or looking busy because it is our basic nature as humans to yearn for connection. We need to be loved and to belong. Being busy can be getting lost in books, music, art, drinking, or drugs. They all serve the same purpose – to numb the pain or fear of rejection.
And since shame is the fear of disconnection its only true remedy is social connection – empathy.
Step 2 – Be Seen
The most beautiful part of empathy is listening to another without judgment. To understand another and ‘feel in’ with them.
To know more : Empathy And Ways To Increase It
When someone wholly listens to you and says – I understand, I have been there – you do not feel alone. Suddenly the shame monsters feel their legs giving away because they have been proved wrong.
You are not alone. You are not the only person on this planet who made this terrible mistake. You are human and you are not alone.
What a relief to hear!
Here I would like to share a story.
Last July, I began a children’s online class and decided to use Google Meet for it. Since the lockdown, we all became Zoom gurus but Google Meet was totally new to me.
So the designated time was 3 to 5 pm. I decided to use Google Calendar to invite all the parents and mark the class time. Now when I went into Google Calendar and saw the 3 to 5 bracket, I marked it and sent all the invitations feeling very pleased with my new accomplishment.
But I had marked them for 3am to 5 am!
Oh the horror! I felt shame gushing through my body by the shitloads!
What will these parents think of me? How unprofessional am I? Now their phone will ring in the middle of the night and they will curse me!
It was a horrible and totally sick feeling. I wanted to run and hide in some hole.
I called my husband and he listened to me carefully after which he gave me multiple examples of seasoned professionals mixing up workshop dates. My sister did the same in different words.
Their empathy helped my shame monsters quiet down. I felt braver and knew I had made a mistake but it did not define me. All I had to do was learn from this, move on and definitely keep my eyes open the next time I am marking dates and timings!
Their underlying message – I was not alone and it was not the end of the world. There was hope for me.
Eventually, we did turn to Zoom and didn’t need the Google Calendar anyway. None of the mums did say anything (giving them a big thank you for their kindness) and secretly hoping they never noticed…a girl can always wish!
Step 3 – Self Compassion/Love
I have realized the most difficult kind of love is self-love. Especially for women because we are molded into thinking that we need to think of everyone else before us. That’s what good girls do.
Self-love is not being selfish. It is just putting boundaries so we can live as the main character of our own life.
– Prachi Bansal
Self-compassion needs a developed sense of self. It means being friends with yourself. It means talking to yourself, the way you would talk to a friend. Encouraging yourself when you are nervous and picking up yourself after a failure, just like you would for a family member.
Self-esteem is believing in yourself and self-compassion is forgiving yourself.
And it takes a lot of time and practice because the shame monsters get in the way!
For men the shame monsters usually attack with thoughts of ‘looking weak’ and for women, they attack with ‘not being good enough’.
Not being a good enough mother.
Not being a good enough wife.
Not being a good enough friend.
Not being thin enough.
Not being fair enough.
And it’s very painful. Believe me, I know.
But the good news is that with the empathy of confidantes and self-compassion, we can fight the shame monsters.
Here’s a poem to combat them. I would say :
‘Shame, Shame go away – today is not your day
Little Prachi is here to stay, you better move out of her way!’
And in time we can heal and live wholeheartedly. It is impossible to get rid of shame completely since it is such a primal emotion much like our flight or fight response. (To know more on this response – Why are we overcome with emotions? )
But we can build shame resilience by loving and forgiving ourselves, opening up to others, and building authentic connections with loved ones by listening and understanding one another.
Because all of us deserve true love, a sense of belonging, and great hope for our own future selves.