If you’re human, you’ve experienced the feeling of shame in your life. It might have been in your family, at work, or from a friend trying to guilt you out in order to get you to do what they wanted you to do. Shame is that horrible feeling of “There’s something terribly wrong with me,” or “I’m inherently flawed and broken and there’s nothing I can do about it.”
Instead of self-acceptance and unconditional positive regard for self, we judge ourselves to be “less than” and not “good enough”—especially when we compare ourselves to someone we’ve idealized. Shame is different than guilt. Guilt says, “I’ve done something wrong and terrible.” Shame says, “I am wrong and terrible.”
Too many of us beat ourselves up for not doing better in our careers, significant relationships, or for not taking better care of our bodies and our overall health. We feel bad (ashamed) that we’re not more disciplined with our money or because we don’t get to the gym like we promised.
We can tell ourselves that we’re not enough because we’re not as “successful” as our potential suggests we can be. None of that is good or helpful. If you’re thinking it’s time to drop the shame, here are four good reasons to do just that:
Shame lies to you
Shame tells you you’re bad and you deserve the criticism you throw at yourself. It tells you to drive yourself harder because you’re not disciplined, and, therefore, not worthy of your own respect, much less the respect of others.
Shame tells you that if you make yourself feel bad enough for all your mistakes, weaknesses, and failures you’ll be motivated to be a better person. All lies—but worse than that—they’re all damning lies. They consign you to your own personal torment having to earn your way to forgiveness and peace of mind.
Shame makes you “less” than others
When you criticize yourself—and I’m not talking about helpful feedback—you are unintentionally shaming yourself. Such as when you say, “When will you ever learn?” like you’re this terribly stupid person who doesn’t care, you feel awful. You don’t think others are stupid or uncaring, but shame can make you feel that way about yourself.
Shame mistakes your behavior for who you are
You are not your thoughts, beliefs or behaviors; as important as they are. You arrive in this world perfect, and you still are. I’ve never heard anyone reasonable judge or criticize a baby for anything, have you? We are patient, kind, and thoughtful with babies but that often gets lost as they grow up.
We start thinking someone’s bad behavior makes them a bad person. Then, we start thinking that way about ourselves. We forget we are not our behaviors, we are far more than that.
Shame brings out your worst, not your best
You can’t criticize and shame yourself into doing better. To bring out your best requires you to inspire yourself, not berate yourself. If you want to do better you have to feel better about yourself.
That’s something shame will never help you do, because it’s designed to make you feel as bad about yourself as it can. Shame will only bring out the worst in you, never the better.