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How to Overcome Shame

Making mistakes is inevitable. No matter how much of a perfectionist you are, whether your mistakes are intentional or not, messing up in some type of way will forever be a part of our story.

As you work on yourself your mistakes may seem less extreme, especially as you take a journey on the self-improvement path. However, in some type of way, we will continue messing up, continue hurting people’s feelings, and continue doing something wrong.

The beauty in this is that we all face the same reality. Which also means we can learn something from the ones that are able to see their mistakes as a path to improvement rather than as a detrimental part of who they are.

There are two main ways that mistakes are typically handled:

Shame: A painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior

Guilt: Culpable of or responsible for a specified wrong doing

Shame is when your mistakes become part of your identity. Rather than saying, “I did something bad” you may start to say “I am bad.”

Your mistakes start to become part of your identity. On the other hand, when you experience guilt you realize that you made a mistake and you take responsibility for that mistake.

Guilt is about finding a solution to your wrong doing, not dwelling in the mistake.

The road from dwelling in shame to moving on will be a journey, but we’re going to look at a few ways to help get you started.

4 Ways to Stop Living With Shame

1. Embrace your mistakes

There are many people who had to strive for perfection when they were younger, and that mindset carries over to adulthood. We’re stuck in a headspace that says making mistakes is bad.

But whatever happened to embracing your mistakes? Seeing each and every wrong doing as a learning experience. Seeing it as a situation that can be processed in a way that allows for solutions, not shame.

There’s no reason to continue in that perfectionist mindset. Of course, breaking free from shame is hard, but being able to embrace your mistakes is a great first step on your journey to a shame free life.

2. Listen to your self talk

Most of you can agree that being nice to other people is important. You don’t want to be rude or call people names, but when it comes to talking to yourself, you’re not as aware of the way that you talk.

Being rude to other people is out of line for you, but the voice in your head runs rampant when it comes to talking bad about yourself. This inner negativity may be fueling your shame, which is why it’s so important to monitor your self talk and change it.

If you catch your inner voice speaking negatively about yourself frequently, it can be difficult to adjust to being nice. Rather than allowing the negativity to become ingrained in your self-talk, try practicing speaking to yourself in a positive way by looking in the mirror and stating back a few positive affirmations.

Mediation or active awareness is another great way to learn how to be aware of the voice in your head so that you can recognize the negativity and learn how to change it to positive.

3. Open up about your shame

When you’re feeling shameful about something, your natural instinct is to hide the situation, hide the shame, and keep as many people out of your business as possible. However, one way to help you get out of your shame cycle is to open up about it.

This doesn’t necessarily have to be to a therapist, it can be to a trusted friend, or a partner as well. Someone that can hold you accountable and encourage you when it comes to learning to let go of your shame.

4. Try an action review

Part of the cycle of shame is ruminating on the situation that occurred. As you play the scene over in your head multiple times, the feelings around that event multiply and make you feel worse.

Instead, Dr. Hal Shorey has come up with an idea called an Action Review. Following are the steps that Dr. Shorey suggests to take:

  1. Identify the behavior that occured

  2. Think about if anyone was harmed and how you can make amends

  3. Ask yourself if there are other consequences to your previous actions

  4. Identify any triggers that caused you to act the way you did

  5. Try to think about which were stronger: your thoughts or your emotions

  6. Think about if this situation is tied to something bigger in your life, is there something specific you can work on to avoid this in the future?

  7. Decide to make the changes that are needed, come to terms with your consequences, and end your action review

** If you continue thinking about the situation, remind yourself that you’ve already processed it with your two minute review. No further processing is necessary for change to occur.

As you learn to overcome shame keep in mind that we are all on this journey together and be grateful that you have the opportunity everyday to continue improving.

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