Tuesday, 9 July 2019

10 ways to challenge shame and become more self-accepting

Woman covering face with both palms
Photo by: Jacqueline Day on Unsplash
Have you ever felt like the worst person in the world for no apparent reason? Have your self-evaluations let you down to the point of breakdown? Don’t worry if this sounds familiar, experiencing shame is common. Shame could be defined as a negative judgment of self – “I am bad” in contrast to guilt which is more oriented towards actions – “I did something bad”. 

Over-active shame feelings can have detrimental effects on acceptance and your overall well-being. Self-judgments could also influence how you express yourself and act in social situations. This means that shame needs to be challenged and dealt with. 

This post will discuss 10 ways to challenge shame and become more self-accepting.

 1. Recognise feelings of shame

The first step in challenging shame is to recognise when it is actively present. Sometimes, feelings of shame are mixed up with reality or thoughts that this is how you naturally act as a person Thinking that negative self-judgments are merely part of your character is incorrect.

When you start judging yourself as ‘bad’, understand that you are experiencing shame, divert yourself from the negative judgment. You are not a “bad person” and these feelings do not define you as an individual. They do not represent your character.

2. Take note of where your shame is directed to

Shame is a multidimensional construct meaning that it can be directed to different aspects of self. For instance, behavioural shame is related to your behaviours and characterological shame is concerned with your personal habits and nature.

Becoming aware of your shamed aspects will help to understand shame itself and where it stems from – it will help you with understanding the ‘why’ of your shame.  

3. Focus on your personal strengths

Experiencing shame can affect your self-esteem. This means that you need to focus on your personal strengths and achievements. Take your time to record all counter-evidence against the belief that you are a “bad person”.

At first, shame may affect your ability to believe in your worth, however focusing more on the positive rather than the negative, will help you to distance yourself from shame.

The more you work towards your self-improvement and less on isolation and letting shame consume your self-esteem – the better you will start to feel as an individual. Build yourself up, don’t build yourself down.

4. Be mindful of your surroundings

Sometimes we can pick up other people’s behaviour when we are around them. Evolutionary speaking, brains are social organs – there are billions of neurons firing in the brain, but some are more involved in social cognition.

Mirror neurons fire when an individual observes an action performed by another person. These neurons are often associated with imitative behaviour and even empathy. To an extent, observing negative behaviours may prime your brain to adopt the same shameful and negative responses.

Other people’s shame could also affect you through introjective identification. This phenomenon tends to be quite common in the therapy context. Therapists can unconsciously begin to feel negative emotions of their clients.

Through introjection, you may start to experience other people’s feelings as though they are your own. Therefore, you should be mindful of your surroundings and who you spend time with. Everyone deserves to be listened to and understood, however you should be careful as there is a high risk that their negativity will be unconsciously internalised. 

5. Actively adopt a balanced mindset to challenge feelings of shame

Cognitive reappraisal is one of the most common techniques taught in CBT sessions to challenge worries or anxious thoughts. It involves carefully deciphering meaning of emotional stimuli – sometimes the way we interpret our experiences may be incorrect and negatively biased.

Take a step back from your shame experience, become an observer of the negative self-judgment. Think “why am I feeling this way?”, “Is there enough evidence to suggest that I am bad?”. List your shameful beliefs and challenge them. Be constructive, not destructive in how you view yourself.

Related post: How to stop worrying 

6. Think about your childhood and upbringing

It is possible that your shame experience is rooted in childhood upbringing. After all, the first relationships that we form are with our caregivers. Sometimes, these relationships are traumatic. The extent of your caregivers’ support can define your character.

Research suggests that early attachments with our caregivers can influence the expression of genes, brain maturation and affect regulation (Cozolino, 2006). If your needs are not met  if your family treated you negatively – over time these traumatic experiences can be internalised. You may unconsciously start thinking that “this is my fault, therefore I am a bad person”.

Bowlby (1969) describes how childhood attachment influences our self-perception – the internal working models of self. Insecure attachments could lead to feelings of worthlessness and give rise to shame. This means that you should think about your childhood and upbringing because it will help you to understand where your shame may originate from. When it comes to dealing with negative childhood experiences, choosing acceptance will help you to move forward. 

7. Realise when you are feeling ashamed due to societal standards

The society evaluates the success and worth of individuals based on extremely high standards. When social media is covered with unrealistic representations of what it means to be a successful person, you may start feeling like an awful individual in comparison, ashamed that you are not perfect.

Think about whether your negative self-evaluations are due to high societal standards. Understand that these standards are unrealistic – let go of these expectations and be your own person. We are all imperfect and that’s okay.

8. Adopt a self-compassionate mindset

Self-compassion relates to treating yourself with acceptance in moments of failure or perceived inadequacies (Neff, 2003a). Self-compassion is comprised of three distinct components – self-kindness, viewing suffering as a shared human experience and mindfulness.

Compassionate mindset helps to reduce feelings of shame. At first, adopting a self-compassionate mindset could be difficult, especially if your self-perception is shaped by childhood attachment.

Nevertheless, there are some easy ways in which you could cultivate self-compassion. Get your pens and journals – writing from a self-compassionate perspective (instructing yourself to express understanding, self-acceptance and self-kindness) can have a positive impact on your mental well-being.

Troop, Chilcoite and Varnaite (2013) found that expressively writing about life goals helped to decrease levels of self-criticism. Make self-compassion your habit, write openly about your life difficulties from a self-compassionate perspective and express your life goals – over time this will help to reduce feelings of shame.

Person writing on a notebook
Photo by: Fotografierende on Unsplash

9. Learn to accept your vulnerability and shame

Negative feelings such as sadness or other forms of self-criticism could make you feel vulnerable and weak. You may feel ashamed for feeling weak. Accepting your vulnerability is important for feeling content in yourself.

Brené Brown explains this in her TED talk on the power of vulnerability. She argues that vulnerability is part of the human experience.

You should not punish yourself for being vulnerable. To work with your shame, you need to move through it constructively. It may seem counter-productive but accepting shame can aid you in moving forward.

10. Get yourself out and find positive distractions

Being stuck in a routine, in a state of ‘mental rut’ can have detrimental effects on your thoughts. Shame can be caused by feeling trapped and isolated. This means that getting yourself out and finding positive distractions is important.

By feeling shame, you might feel tempted to move yourself towards punishment. Isolation can emphasise this need for self-punishment. Explore new environments, reward yourself with something that you enjoy.

Let’s summarise the key points in this post - to challenge shame, you should first recognise and have awareness of your shame. Think about why you feel ashamed – is it your character, habits? You need to also assess whether your shame is caused by your early attachment or/and societal standards. Attention to your surroundings and people may also help you to decrease feelings of shame. Most importantly, being self-compassionate is crucial in lowering shame. Learn to accept your vulnerability – don’t be consumed by shame but move through it naturally and constructively by adopting a balanced mindset.

I hope you have enjoyed this post and found it helpful. Do you experience shame? How do you deal with these feelings? Leave a comment below and share your experiences and advice.

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  1. I can't tell you how much I love this post. I need this to be engraved in my head 24/7 so I can remind myself that I am enough, and shouldn't be ashamed of who I am. Thank you for writing and sharing this.

  2. These are such great tips!! Such a thought provoking post. Thank you for sharing your thoughts xx

  3. Great article, I totally agree that it's important to identify when our shame come from societal expectations that we may feel we don't reach. It's always important to reject these notions and like you've said, focus on the positive things about ourselves!

  4. Love this blog post darling, it's really well written! Sending you all of my love 💜

    With love, Alisha Valerie x | www.alishavalerie.com


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