Have you ever woke from a dream and felt intense guilt? This dreadful feeling that you have done something wrong? The feelings of remorse and regret fill your entire soul. It’s a palpable feeling that manifests itself physically. Then shame sets in over something you have done in the past to cause this feeling. You blame others or yourself, you are angry and start questioning your faith.
Guilt and shame are two separate emotions. Guilt is a sort of barometer we have to help us know when we have done something that goes against our code of morals and values. But shame however, that is where we get stuck in the trap. Carrying around shame can lead to addiction problems, health problems, and relationship problems all because we cant handle that heavy load.
I have spent my entire life wrestling with guilt and shame. I felt guilty about everything as a child. I internalized problems and events as somehow being “my fault”. This led to developing an addiction to alcohol and drugs at an early age. I became depressed and sought out medical help, but the shame was always there. As life happened the shame and remorse built up further and I pushed it back with anything I could, including relationships with men who were chemically addicted too. I sought out a life of chaos because I felt I deserved to be punished for everything. I sabotaged anything positive or fruitful in my life until I finally had hit rock bottom. But, sometimes we walk around on our bottom and live in utter hell before we reach out. I finally did. I learned how to cope with my emotions and free myself from the shame I carried. It changed my life forever, for the good.
Freeing ourselves from shame requires a long look at our actions and sometimes the actions of others who have harmed us. It requires strength to fulfill the process of recovery from self. We are hardest on ourselves and we can cause irreparable damage to our lives because of the shame we carry. Here are 8 steps you can take to help rid yourself of shame to enjoy a richer life.
1.) Take an inventory.
Begin by identifying your role in situations and events so that you can better understand what happened. Avoid blaming yourself and others while you do this. Just take an inventory of the situation and write down your part in it. Sometimes we have no part, and that is perfectly ok. Sometimes things happen to us that are out of our control, but we still hold onto shame about the event. Make an inventory and realize where you went wrong, or made bad decisions. Who was harmed and why. You will be surprised to find out that much of the shame you carry is over things you had no control over.
2.) Identify the harms you have done.
Identify in your list where you harmed another person and think about a way you can change that narrative. Can you apologize or make an amends to this person? Would it do more harm to try and resolve this situation in person? Writing letters to these people, not intending to deliver them at first, can help you purge emotions and fears. Don’t let fear stop you from doing this. It’s only for you to realize and purge emotion.
Realize that shame does not serve you in a positive way. Look at your life and try to imagine overcoming this feeling. What would your life be like without that shame? Can you imagine getting rid of it, and being free of the shame, or do you find comfort in holding onto it? Does it still serve you to fuel your anger? Is anger driving you to keep negative emotions and self serving guilt? Try and forgive yourself for this. Ask your higher power to help you achieve forgiveness. Make a decision to do this and act on it. It’s a big step.
4.) Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Learn how to ask for help if you need to. Taking a major life step such as this sometimes requires help from others. If your depression and grief is too much, seek help. Sometimes the medical community can help us with our mental state in order to fulfill our goal of ridding one’s self of shame. Clergy and church members can be a good place to look to for guidance and help also. If you’re experiencing problems with addiction, there is help for that also. Reach out if needed. Don’t try and keep yourself isolated anymore. Like minded people are out there.
5.) Clean your plate.
Many times making your amends and apologizing for any wrong doing can help us free ourselves from guilt and shame. If you owe money, repay it. If you hurt someone along the way, let them know your apologies. Sometimes you can’t reach that person on your list from earlier, so write a living amends letter. You can burn it and say a prayer, or tear it up, but the important part is writing it and releasing the shame and regret. Most importantly, you make the effort to not repeat the behaviors that led to this list. That is what a living amends is. Living your life in a positive and healthy way.
6.) Try throwing all the shame away
Once you have forgiven others, and yourself, you can take all that shame surrounding your past and throw it away. You can literally do this by throwing papers you have written in the trash, or metaphorically throwing it away. Just somehow make a ceremonial effort to release this feeling for good.
7.) Identify self care again.
Treat yourself with kindness and start doing those things you have neglected for so long. Eat healthy, nurture yourself with literature or some spiritually uplifting messages on a daily basis. Grow in understanding and effectiveness to your planet and the people around you. Plant things, grow fruit and harvest it. This makes you feel so good about life and nature. Those are just a few examples of how you can nurture yourself. You decide what is right for you.
8.) Help others.
Becoming a part of a group or community where you can give back and see the love shared in that community is priceless. Helping someone else who is struggling with the same things you have overcome heals old wounds further. It keeps you grounded in the mindset of never letting shame rule you again.
Like I said earlier, this is not an easy process, nor is it overnight, but these are just a few steps I have found to overcome the “shame game” that used to rule my life. I bid you an enlightening and positive journey in yours.