Bringing Shame Into the Light

My mom had a green thumb. She loved being outside and working in the yard. I can still see her wearing her garden gloves and carrying a trowel and a watering can. She’d fill old tractor tires and feed troughs with all sorts of flowers. She made our yard look beautiful. I can’t say that I have the greenest of thumbs, but I definitely got my love of gardening from her. 

Gardening isn’t always fun. It has its downside. As often as my mom was planting and watering flowers she was also pulling weeds. She always said that “sometimes weeds grew faster than the good stuff.” Like peanut butter and jelly, weeds and gardening go hand and hand. Weeds just happen. 

The cracks in my concrete driveway are “hot spots” for weeds. I don’t know how they survive under all of that cement and sand but they do. Sometimes I think the weeds make their way up to the surface just to aggravate me and spoil my nice and tidy landscaping. There’s good news though! I’ve recently gained the upper hand on them. Ever since my husband came home with a jumbo bottle of Spectracide I’ve been on a weed-killing frenzy. Weeds don’t stand a chance with this stuff!

Weeds remind me of shame. I hope you can follow my thinking… 

So many of us carry shame deep down inside of us and, just like weeds, it can be so dang annoying! Our lives may look put together on the outside (nice landscaping-nice flowers) but every once in a while, shame (weeds) will pop up and ruin things. And, in keeping with my mom’s thinking, “shame grows faster than the good stuff!” Wouldn’t it be nice if we could buy jumbo bottles of shame-killer to use on it when it pops up in our lives? 

Shame and Guilt

Many people wrongly use the words guilt and shame interchangeably. They’re not. Here’s something to help remember the difference between the two: Guilt = behavior Shame = self

Guilt is a behavior. I did something bad. Shame is about self. I am bad.

Shame is a painful, crippling emotion that arises from a negative, highly critical evaluation of oneself as a whole person. Shame is about our essential worth. Brene Brown defines shame as a destructive emotion that results in a feeling that one is “fundamentally flawed and unworthy of belonging.”

Sadly, shame that lingers for years can change our self-image and stunt our ability to function in life. Just like those annoying weeds need to go, shame does too. 

Causes and Impact

Before I share with you ways to remove shame (weeds) from our life, it’s important to find out where shame can come from and how it can affect us.

When it comes to causes of shame here are a few of the main triggers:  

  • childhood trauma
  • neglect 
  • bullying
  • rejection
  • excessive criticism
  • a traumatic experience 

And, consequently, here are a few of the ways shame impacts us:

  • withdrawal from social interactions
  • depression
  • loneliness
  • low self-esteem
  • distrust
  • feeling invisible
  • irrational guilt
  • settling for less
  • dysfunctional relationships
  • self-sabotaging behavior

Keeping Our Shame a Secret

Shame thrives in secrecy and silence. 

Throughout my late teens and early twenties, I struggled with an eating disorder. For years following my recovery, I felt tremendous shame. Although I was free from the eating disorder shame kept its hold on me.  

Words like diet, skinny, and calories would trigger feelings of guilt, anxiety, regret, sensitivity, unworthiness, and low self-confidence in me. I felt like I was flawed, defective, damaged, and an embarrassment to those I loved.

I feared that people were talking about me, snickering, or “tsk-tsking” under their breath. I kept my shame to myself and was miserable. I mistakenly thought that if I didn’t tell anyone about my feelings my shame would go away. It didn’t. 

Bringing Shame Into the Light

Moving beyond shame and into freedom means acknowledging it and sharing our experiences with people we trust-the ones who know we aren’t perfect and love and accept us anyway. Their understanding and empathy will allow us to keep our sense of shame in perspective.

This is exactly what happened to me! It was when I told a few safe and trusted friends about my past struggles that shame began to loosen its grip on me. The more I discussed it the more I realized that everyone has a skeleton or two in their closet. I began releasing my feelings of being an outcast and started feeling “normal” and accepted. Fast forward to today and I now talk openly about my past eating disorder in the hopes of helping others struggling with the same thing.  I turned my mess into my message and used it as a platform for good. Shame lost and I won!

By bringing shame out into the light we stop it from popping up (like a weed) and defining us. I love this powerful quote by Brene Brown. “When we bury the story, we forever stay the subject of the story, if we own the story, we get to narrate the ending.”

While being vulnerable with people and bringing shame into the light is important there are a few additional things you and I can do too. 

  • Revisit our childhood through adult eyes. It’s important to try and find the source of our childhood shame. Whatever it was, we were not at fault, we were just a child.  Our judgment and perspective is mature now. We can now see the truth through wiser eyes and understand the trauma for what it was: wrong and uncalled for. 
  • Challenge and correct your thoughts. When we catch ourselves thinking self-defeating thoughts we can ask questions like: 

“Who told me this?” and “Is this really true or have I grown accustomed to thinking it is?” 

It’s also important to correct our thinking when it becomes skewed. We can correct our thoughts and tell ourselves something different. 

“I can’t do anything right.” (incorrect) 

“I can’t do everything right, but I can do a lot of things right.” (correct)

“I’m a bad person.” (incorrect) 

“I’ve made mistakes, but this has nothing to do with who I am. I’m a good person and worthy of being loved.” (correct)

“There’s something wrong with me as a person.” (incorrect)

“I’m not perfect, just like everyone else, but I still have a purpose.” (correct)

  • Accept kindness. We shouldn’t diminish, gloss over, or diminish acts of kindness given to us (“You really did a great job!” “Oh, it was nothing.”). Instead, we should acknowledge them (“Thank you!”) and be grateful and “put them in our back pocket” as a reminder that people really do like us and think we’re worthy
  • Have self-compassion (it’s good for us!). We should treat ourselves like we would one of our friends or a small child. If needed, we can pretend (for now) that we are loved, cherished, and worthy even before we feel it! The more we do this, the less we will have to pretend in the future! Here’s the “good for you” part: Kristen Neff, an associate professor of human development, says “the power of self-compassion is not just an idea; it’s very real and actually manifests in our bodies.” and “One important way the care-giving system works is by triggering the release of oxytocin. Research indicates that increased levels of oxytocin strongly increase feelings of trust, calm, safety, generosity and connectedness and facilitates the ability to feel warmth and compassion for ourselves. 
  • Forgive ourselves. I love this quote: “Forgive yourself for not knowing what you didn’t know before you learned it.” It’s true…we are not the same person we once were. Let’s give ourselves some grace and move on.
  • Know who we belong to. I’ve saved the best for last (just my opinion!). God created each of us in his own image. He designed us to be unique and with a purpose. No one is perfect. Not one single person!  We all struggle with feelings of inferiority at times. We often try to fit in and crave acceptance. This is normal. God looks at our heart-not our past, present, or future actions! He specifically says in His word that “And, ‘I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.” 2 Corinthians 6:18, KJV But wait, there’s more!  For You formed my inmost being; You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made…How precious to me are Your thoughts, O God, how vast is their sum! If I were to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand;” Ps 139:13,14,17,18

Shame can be the byproduct of an addiction, an abortion, a failed relationship, an affair, an incident at work, being bullied, having a police record, or something else entirely. Whatever it is, it needs to go! Don’t let your past define who you are today or who you are in the future. 

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Friend, make yourself a priority and start working on YOU, your thoughts, your beliefs, and your attitudes towards yourself.! Once shame stops popping up in your life (like weeds) you’ll find it easier to accept the parts of you that you can’t change. 

How about you? Does shame have a hold on you? Shame is universal and everyone feels it to some degree. You are not alone! Bring it out into the light once and for all! Send me a note if you could use a trusted friend to lean on. I’d love to help you!



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