4 Powerful Steps To Combat Shame

Out of all the emotions out there, I gravitated towards the negative ones for many years.  They made me feel safe and they made me feel in control. I was never more uncomfortable than when I was happy because I spent a lot of my time wondering when it would end than learning to embrace it. I’m continuously learning a new way of life, but negativity is still easier for me to go to since I spent so much time there in the past. For me, one of the most damaging emotions or states of being is that of shame.

Is negative-self talk common behavior for you? Learn the difference between guilt and shame and try these 4 tips to help combat shame. Learn to treat yourself better.

Guilt and shame are often grouped together, but I have learned through recovery and some amazing books that there is a marked difference between the two.

Guilt is an emotion resulting from an action that goes against our morals or values. Cheating on a test, for example, or lying, usually evokes feelings of guilt since both go against our internal sense of right and wrong.

Shame, however, is a lie we tell ourselves that doesn’t even require any action. We tell ourselves we are bad people, failures, never good enough, etc. While it has been shown that guilt can actually be a positive emotion as it causes us to correct our behavior and realign with our values, shame often has no positive follow-up associated with it. We continue to chip away at our self-worth until is it hard to remember anything we do well.

Guilt speaks to outside events or actions, while shame is an internal, sometimes unprovoked battle. It drives right to the core of our humanity and self-worth.

The next time you find yourself having a negative reaction, figure out whether it is a guilt or shame reaction. If it’s shame that’s come to knock you down, try these 4 steps to avoid it:

1. Identify shame as soon as it happens

For me, shame feels like both a heavy, crushing weight and being fully exposed at the same time. When I have a shame reaction, I feel as though the entire world can see every imperfection I have and rather than let them tell me, I am first to run and pick up the bat. If I can shame myself more than you can shame me, somehow I think it won’t be as painful.

Here’s an example from last week. Neil and I have been talking about making more dinners at home. On Sunday, I decided to make a big meal in the crock pot so that we would have leftovers for the week. I quickly pulled up a recipe online, we went shopping, and I threw everything in to cook. When it came time to take out the meat, I shredded it and noticed that it seemed a little dry. I also didn’t cover it entirely after shredding which dried it out even more. When it came time to try and eat it, it was edible, but not soft and tender like most crock pot meats are. Neil was disappointed and I immediately went into a shame spiral.

“I can’t do anything right.”

“I can’t even put meat in a pot which does all the cooking for me!”

“I AM A FAILURE!”

“I can’t cook ANYTHING so why would someone want to be with me??”

All of these things are ridiculous, but in the moment it was where I went because it is what I know. It’s what is familiar to me. Neil neither said any of these things, nor thought them. He just wished he didn’t have to eat pork jerky for dinner and truthfully, who would? Since it took me awhile to follow these steps and wade out of the shame, however, a meaningless disagreement followed because rather than laugh about it, I decided to turn it into a mini melodrama.

What’s funny is that most people aren’t out to shame me. When I make a mistake, most people end up standing around quizzically looking at each other as I shove them out of the way and frantically grasp for that bat they can’t even see.

2. Pay attention to the words you are using to talk to yourself

The negative things we say to ourselves can sometimes become so normal that we don’t even realize we are doing it. Once you have identified your reaction, stop and pay attention to what words or phrases  you are actually using. Write them down if you have to. Notice how damaging those thoughts can be. Can you imagine saying them to someone you care about? Why are you saying them to yourself?

3. Tell yourself the opposite of what you are thinking

Sometimes it is easy to see how irrational our self-talk can be, but other times it has become so ingrained in us that we truthfully believe it. Thankfully, I have gotten better at understanding the absurdity of what I tell myself, but in the beginning there was such a lack of connection between what I was feeling and thinking that I didn’t even know to question it.

Now when I start to tell myself that I am worthless, I tell myself that I am enough.

When I tell myself that I am a failure, I point out how many accomplishments I have achieved.

When I tell myself that no one should love me because I’m not perfect, I remind myself that there is no perfect and that being so would take away what makes us unique and individual.

Sometimes it takes actually saying these things out loud for them to register. Don’t just say them once; yell these messages to yourself! If any kind of negative self-talk has been a pattern for you, it’s going to be hard to drown it out. Every time a negative message comes up, be prepared to flip it around.

4. Breathe

Battling with yourself is exhausting. Take some time to breathe and slow down. Everything will be ok. Everything IS ok. You. Are. OK.

Questions:

  • Do you struggle with shame?
  • What tips do you have for combating negative self talk?
  • Do you want some of my pork jerky?

Thanks to Amanda for letting me think out loud.

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17 Comments

  1. October 1, 2015 / 5:58 am

    I get embarrassed very easily, and even years later, I will think of an embarrassing moment from my past and remember it and think that that moment is what defined and defines me in other people’s minds. Until I remember, and I think that this is key, is that often they don’t care. They don’t remember. Admittedly, this only works for certain situations, but sometimes, I think you have to learn to be the bigger person in the relationship with yourself. xoxoxo
    Susie @ SuzLyfe recently posted…Currently at the Start of October #thinkingoutloudMy Profile

    • erinsinsidejob
      October 1, 2015 / 6:00 am

      Agreed. I was also going to use the word embarrassed in this but must have overlooked it. I definitely agree w you!

  2. October 1, 2015 / 6:53 am

    Great post, Erin. I’m guilty (hah) of shaming myself, but lately I’ve been allowing it to roll off quickly instead of carrying it around with me like I used to. Though I did beat myself up a bit about not getting into Boston, I don’t feel shame… more disappointment I don’t get to have the experience of running it this year and frustrated that I have to qualify again.
    Bri recently posted…{thinking out loud Thursday} My Boston Marathon dreams are crushedMy Profile

    • erinsinsidejob
      October 1, 2015 / 11:00 am

      That cutoff for Boston was so close! I’m super impressed that you a) ran a marathon and b) ran it so quickly! You should definitely be proud of that!

  3. October 1, 2015 / 9:19 am

    pork jerky? hey you made dinner 😀 that’s my attitude, at least outwardly. inwardly i get very dark and hate making mistakes. i feel that since we lived with major demons and seriously destructive behaviors for so long (well i’m speaking for myself here) that now i’m ‘recovered’ that i should be totally perfect, and devoid of flaws. that is just bullshit and impossible. of course i make mistakes. i love what you said about breathing and changing our self talk. that’s what i have to work on constantly. writing in my gratitude journal first thing or saying a gratitude prayer in the morning has helped me tremendously over the years :0 xoxo
    danielle saucy smith recently posted…the bright sideMy Profile

    • erinsinsidejob
      October 1, 2015 / 11:01 am

      Definitely agree. It’s something I have to keep working on. Always more to improve!

  4. October 1, 2015 / 9:31 am

    I struggle with negative self-talk a lot, and while it’s tonnes better than it used to be when I was younger, it’s still something I have to make a conscious effort to tackle. There are some days where I feel like I’m 100% confident in myself, and others when I feel like I seriously can’t find anything to be proud about. I totally agree that it’s really important to watch the kind of language that we use to talk to ourselves, though… and it’s scary because those negative thoughts start feeling so ‘natural’ after a while that it’s not always that easy to pick up on them.
    Amanda @ .running with spoons. recently posted…. thinking out loud #150 .My Profile

    • erinsinsidejob
      October 1, 2015 / 11:02 am

      Definitely. It took me years until I finally started paying attention. Before that it was last just noise that blended in but also stayed with me

    • erinsinsidejob
      October 1, 2015 / 11:02 am

      It really is. Have to always be working on it!

  5. October 1, 2015 / 12:42 pm

    I used to be extremely self-conscious after teaching a group ex class. If I got any sort of vibe that someone didn’t like the class, I spend hours wondering what I did wrong and questioned if I should have become an instructor. It took me a bit to stand back and realize that a) they probably won’t remember, and b) if they do, so what? If I did the best I could safely and effectively, there’s not much else that I could do; at that point, it’s “their” problem.

    YOU ARE ENOUGH. <3
    Jess @hellotofit recently posted…Try This Thursday: Wild and Wolf travel walletMy Profile

    • erinsinsidejob
      October 1, 2015 / 5:19 pm

      Haha I can definitely relate to that as well. I just try to do my best and then I don’t spend a lot of time questioning myself

  6. October 1, 2015 / 4:58 pm

    Have you read Brene Brown’s books? They’ve really helped me with my shame spiral and working to be more positive. They’re my favourite self-help books.
    Ange @ Cowgirl Runs recently posted…On FriendshipsMy Profile

    • erinsinsidejob
      October 1, 2015 / 5:05 pm

      Yup, every one. They’re so good!

  7. October 5, 2015 / 5:04 am

    Channeling my inner Brene Brown.

    I don’t struggle with shame now but that hasn’t always been the case. Much love xoxo
    jill conyers recently posted…Strong Core WorkoutMy Profile

    • erinsinsidejob
      October 5, 2015 / 10:50 am

      Brene is the best!

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