BY DR. DAN
It is the time of year when we all get to choose a “resolution,” usually consisting of something to work on (lose weight, exercise more), personal improvement (yell less, manage anger), or a goal (join a gym, volunteer). While it can be cliché to only think about these things at the end of the year, and believe we will be more successful in reaching these goals (which we think about often throughout the year), this time of year provides an opportunity for a fresh start. It allows us to close the door on our past year with all of its challenges, pain, and joy, and look to a new year with a clean slate and endless possibilities. The longer I have experienced being human and the longer I have had the privilege to sit with people daily to bare witness their journey, aspirations, and dreams, the more and more I realize the one thing that keeps people from not only meeting and sustaining their New Years resolutions, but also keeps them from experiencing joy and living to their potential. This one thing is shame.
While all of us have varied experiences with different circumstances and upbringings, no one gets out of being a human being without experiencing shame. Whether we are punished and humiliated by a parent, sibling, or family member; experienced abuse or mistreatment; publically humiliated by a teacher; bullied by a classmate; laughed at for our appearance or awkwardness; failed at something that was important to us; or abandoned by a friend or family member – we have felt shame. What is shame? Shame has been defined as a painful feeling caused by the consciousness or exposure of unworthy or indecent conduct or circumstances (source: https://www.thefreedictionary.com/shame), and as a feeling of guilt, regret, or sadness that you have because you know you have done something wrong (source: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/shame).
The bottom line is that shame doesn’t feel good and it unfortunately can permeate our being, keeping us from believing in ourselves, as we hide from both internal negative feelings of guilt and regret, and hide from being “found out” by others for whom we really are. Shame is like an invisible scar that never leaves. It often comes in the form of negative soft internal voices and thoughts that we are not good enough, don’t deserve success and happiness, and are “less than” others. We take this unwanted, but all too familiar companion with us to work, on vacations, and to all our relationships – to our friends, significant others, and to our children.
We want to forget the painful past and those painful and embarrassing experiences. We want to them to just go away and pretend they don’t affect us anymore. Unfortunately, that hope, and strategy doesn’t work so well. We still can lack confidence, doubt ourselves, fear taking a risk and failing, and believe that others are more qualified, more worthy, and more lovable than we are. I have news for you. It’s not true! You are just as good, just as lovable, just as worthy, and have every right and opportunity to experience joy and happiness in your life and pursue your dreams. While shame is the one thing that is likely keeping you from fully living the life you want, there is one thing that can help you move beyond your shame. That one thing is accepting yourself for who you are and realizing that you are enough.
I know it sounds too simple, but it’s true. You can choose, right now, to accept and love yourself. By love, I mean care and appreciate yourself – your quirks, flaws, and uniqueness. Accept who you are and acknowledge your strengths and goodness.
If you made mistakes in your past that you regret – forgive yourself and realize that they do not define you.
If you were humiliated, put down, and embarrassed as a child –those experiences don’t define who you are.
If you were mistreated or abused – tell yourself that you did not deserve it and that you are worthy and loved.
You don’t have to let shame travel with you everywhere you go and keep you from feeling joy and experiencing a meaningful and fulfilling life. You can choose to let shame go. You don’t need it anymore. You can choose to tell yourself daily that you are worthy and lovable. Do it for yourself. Do it for your children.
I challenge you to let shame go in 2018 and live your life fully. I challenge you to be open to life’s possibilities and believe you deserve happiness. Why do you deserve it and why can you have it? Because you are just fine the way you are. You don’t have to change, you just have to accept yourself and see where this acceptance takes you.
Wishing you the very best in the New Year,