A woman covering her head in shame with two extra hands edited in covering her face, also in shame.
Coping Skills / Mental Illness

Handling Shame 101

One of the deepest, most recurring struggles I’ve had is that of shame. I first discovered this in my late teens, but it seems to me that only recently have I started to truly overcome and look toward actually mastering that shame and finding self love

My problem with shame may be outright genetic in part. My parents tell me that I was extremely perfectionist even as a baby. I did not speak until I was three, but I spoke far beyond a three year old level at that time. My first words were in sentences. I find that this is often my approach. I don’t want to do something unless I’ve mastered it, and if I’ve not mastered a thing, then I’m bad at it. I share this because I think I’m far from alone. I know many perfectionists, and Imposter Syndrome is rampant throughout the world. I read an anecdote that even Neil Armstrong felt like a complete poser in groups of successful people because “All I did was go where I was sent”. This is particularly amusing to me because qualifying to be an astronaut involves a lot of tests that are basically torture to see if the candidate acts like he’s being tortured or if he can handle it no problem. (Space travel is very hard on the mind and they want to make sure people who do it won’t break down).

My feelings of shame were compounded by people I grew up around. At the church I went to when I was younger, I was taught that my behavior was an insult to God and even that my depression was a sin because it was a mockery of God’s creation, which should be valued. That’s essentially an affirmation turned into an indictment.

So it seems that a big part of my shame was a world that looks down on me and tells me to be ashamed. I think that’s true for just about anyone. It’s not just those of us with mental illness that are shunned by society. I think everyone is to an extent. We are a social, but tribal species and we feel the need to compare ourselves against others. We compare on looks, height, gender, political views, ethnic heritage, grades, interests, intelligence, strength, and even what sports teams we support. Every single human is a member of many, many minorities because there are so many options in all these categories that few groups of anything have more than half of all humans in it. We are absolutely bombarded by messages that we are inferior, and I think for a lot of us, it truly does sink in.

For anything anyone does, someone does it better in some way. There are many things I do with my time. I write. I code. I blog. I write scripts on my computer. I support friends. I garden. I play games. I’m not the best in the world at any of those (no one is, really), which means I’m not perfect. If perfection is my standard, then I have failed.

But what if perfection wasn’t the standard? What if I’m a great blogger because someone read my blog and was encouraged? What if I’m great at coding because I wrote a program that works? Could I say that I’m a great supporter of my friends, because I help them feel better about themselves? Maybe, I’m even really good at repairing computers, because I’ve fixed several in ways that others can’t. Some can do it better, but maybe I can do it well.

So I hammer these messages into my head. I say over and over and over again that I am competent, that I write well, that I code well, that I do lots of things well. I refer to this method of Affirmations as “Brute force”. I think a sort of brute force of negative messages is what discourages us in the first place. We are told so many times by so many people that we aren’t good enough. That’s why we believe it.

So what if we told ourselves even more strongly, and even more often, that we’re actually good at some things? And what if we fact-checked to potentially find we’re better at things than we thought? I find true things to say about myself. Sometimes I don’t believe them initially, but I check with my therapist or friends to make sure it’s true. And then I say it all day long in my head until I believe it.

I dare say it’s working. I used to believe at my core that I was incompetent. I used to believe that more than anything. Through this “Brute force” of affirmations, I’m beginning to overcome that. I’m beginning to believe I really am good at things. I can’t get over it. I’m so excited to realize I’m not dirt. To realize that I’m useful to this world, and that I am a positive force has blown my mind.

For my Gentle Readers who struggle with shame, know that you’re not worthless even if you think you are. Even if I don’t know you, feel free to talk to me, either on Facebook if you know me there, or even by email at damhan@healingstudent.com. I’ll bet by the time I’ve talked to you for a whole 30 seconds, I’ll know some great things about you. I practiced finding this stuff when I looked at myself, but I see others’ virtues all the time, now, too. If not me, talk to a friend or family member. I guarantee there’s someone who knows you’re not worthless. If you can find the truth of your virtues, you’ve made the first step in not hating yourself.

Rinse and Repeat.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

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