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Five Ways to Overcome Shame

In Brene Brown’s book I Thought it Was Just Me (But it’s Not), she says that what is needed for shame to thrive is secrecy, silence and judgment. Shame cannot survive in an atmosphere of empathy and compassion. So how can this help us if we are dealing with a lifetime of shame? Secrecy needs to be replaced with the truth, silence with finding our voice and judgment of ourselves with self-love and compassion. However, this is not as easy as just flipping a switch to replace self-shame and loathing with self-love and compassion. With any task, we need the tools.

Below are five tools to use in overcoming shame.

1. Acceptance. To overcome anything, we need to accept what is. Acceptance never means that what happened was okay. Or that we should not hold the person or people who harmed us accountable. Part of acceptance realizes what we can and cannot control. While there are many things that are in our control, there are also many things that are not. While we need to process and grieve what has happened to us, if we continue to ruminate over things we cannot control, we remain in an unhealthy thought process. Acceptance is about learning to let go and move on.

2. Journaling. One way we can promote acceptance in our life is through writing. Journaling about what happened to us is important, but we should not stop there. We can also journal about what we can control in the situation and the actions we’ll take. Another way journaling can help is to write a letter to the person or persons that harmed us and tell them the things we are not able to say to them face to face. This is something we probably won’t send to them, but getting the emotions on paper is helpful. Doing this gets our feelings out of the emotional part of the brain and into the thinking part of the brain. This helps us deal with situations in a more rational way.

3. Meditate and deep breathing. This helps us calm down the emotional part of the brain. Meditation helps us observe our thoughts without judgment. This is a way to practice self-compassion. In mediation, we remove ourselves from the intensity of the emotion and put space between us and the emotion. And in that space, we can think more objectively and less reactively about a situation or person.

Deep breathing is part of meditation. This act literally calms down the part of our brain that deals with negative emotions. When we feel threatened in some way, either physically or emotionally, our brain reacts as if it was a physical threat. Our bodies’ systems get ready to fight or flight so we can remain safe. The part of the brain that is activated during the ‘fight or flight' response is the sympathetic nervous system. But meditation and deep breathing calms down the sympathetic nervous system and engages the parasympathetic system. While the sympathetic engages the “fight or flight” response, the para-sympathetic engages the “rest and digest” response. This system help get the body back to homeostasis, to a calm and relaxed state. It’s an important part of how our body regulates itself.

4. Practice awareness. This is like being mindful. It is being present in the moment and aware of what is currently happening. Many of us either live in the past, ruminating over things that have happened, or we live in the future, making plans for what we will do or fearing what could happen. Being aware and living in the moment helps us recognize what is happening right now. We can let go of worrying about the past or fearing the future. What we often find when we live in the present are the good things we have, like friends and family, our pets, and that we have food to eat and a house to live in. Being mindful and living in the moment helps us take a different view of our life. When we realize what is happening in our present life, we can gain a better perspective on our worries and fears and realize, while difficult, these are not the only things we have.

5. Practice self-care. Self-care is simply caring for ourselves. Self-care is also a way

to practice self-compassion and develop a belief that we are valuable and worthy. This is an important tool in overcoming shame. Most of us already practice daily self-care. We brush our teeth, comb our hair, take a bath or shower, fuel our body with food, sleep, etc. These are all ways we care for ourselves. It’s important to recognize this because understanding that we already practice self-care can motivate us to do more. Recognizing what we already do to care for ourselves may give us momentum to do more.

I hope these strategies will help you in overcoming shame and live your best life. I use all of these strategies in my own life to overcome trauma and the shame that comes with it. (You can learn more about my story here: Journaling and meditation have helped me the most. I’m still working on self-care. None of these helpful strategies are “one-and-done”. For most of us, this is a lifelong journey. But remember you are not alone. We all struggle with overcoming shame.

If you would like help in overcoming trauma and working through shame, I would love to connect with you. Together we can see if coaching would be helpful in your life journey and whatever you are working on. For more information on coaching click here:

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