Brené Brown defines shame as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.” Shame is an emotion that we all experience and are familiar with. And it can have wide-ranging effects on our mental health. Before we give tips on how to cope with shame, here are some more things to know about it:
- People can experience shame from many different things, like appearance and body image, sexuality, family, motherhood, parenting, professional identity and work, mental and physical health, aging, religion, speaking out, or surviving trauma.
- Shame can cause people to feel trapped and powerless, sometimes leading to social withdrawal and isolation. It can shut us down or make us more destructive.
- Shame is often linked to mental health issues, like addiction, eating disorders or depression.
- The core of shame is worrying about what others think.
Shame can have a major negative impact on our self-esteem and mental health. So, how can we cope with it? Here are five of our tips:
Know the Difference Between Shame and Guilt
One important thing to understand is that guilt and shame are two different things. A simple explanation is the guilt is “I did something bad,” while shame is “I am bad.” Guilt often has a reason attached to the feeling, where shame is a much deeper, internal feeling of unworthiness, even when there is no explanation to “justify” it. That’s what makes shame so tough to work through. It’s helpful to understand the two different feelings before we can try to cope with either of them.
Be Kind to Yourself
Perhaps the greatest way that we can combat shame is by becoming more kind and accepting of ourselves. One way to do this is to monitor our self-talk. Instead of insulting yourself and making yourself feel bad, try to talk to yourself like you would talk to someone you love. Notice the difference in language here. You would never say horrible things to your loved ones that you might say to yourself. Treat yourself with the same love and respect you give to others.
Know Your Self-Worth
Your self-worth should come from who you are, not from what you do. Your self-worth isn’t dependent on what job you have, the school you went to, how much money you make, or how many friends you have. These factors don’t make up our true identity. It’s not about what we do, but more about the person we are, the values we want to live out. Once we can realize that our worth doesn’t come from any of that external stuff, we can become more accepting of ourselves.
Talk About It
Brené points out that the less we talk about shame, the more power it has over our lives. It helps to put a name to it and acknowledge it. You might try sharing your experiences with the people you trust and who will love you regardless of any shame. Seeing their empathy can sometimes help to put our shame into perspective.
Reach Out to Others
Lastly, reach out to others. Shame is a fear of being disconnected. When we connect with others more, we may automatically feel less shameful and alone. Having others we can reach out to and lean on will also help us cope with shame.