I believe all people have a strong need to experience love and belonging, but there is a powerful, and yet often unnamed, force that keeps most of us from experiencing this – shame.
I have struggled with shame my entire life, but until recently I had no idea, that is until I read Brene Brown’s book The Gifts of Imperfection. What a life transforming book!
I knew I struggled with perfectionism and I knew that it held me back from taking steps forward. I would often feel I was not good enough, capable enough, or smart enough and there was always people I could think of who would do it better than I could. What I did not connect was that perfectionism leads to shame because I am never good enough, which leaves us feeling unworthy.
Can you see the struggle here?
If I could just lose 25 lbs…
If I could just stop drinking…
If I could just keep myself from loosing my temper…
If I could just eat healthier…
If I could just be more compassionate….
If I could just have get an A….
If I could just get a promotion…
If I could could just be as good as….
What I have found is that many struggle with these loops that replay over and over again. In essence, we believe that we are not worthy.
Brene Brown writes, “If we want to fully experience love and belonging, we must believe that we are worthy of love and belonging.”
If I feel an innate need to experience love and belonging, yet feel unworthy of love and belonging due to my focus on perfectionism that leads to shame, then I will be left feeling alone and will continue to spiral down.
Here are four steps that I think we can take to lead us on the path toward freedom from shame.
- Surrender our drive for perfectionism.
None of us are or ever will be perfect. We will all make mistakes from time to time and that is actually part of the learning and growth process. The only way we don’t make a mistake is if we never step out and try. Perfectionism paralyzes us and keeps us from taking steps forward. So instead, we should name and own our mistakes. As we do, I think we will find that people appreciate that and are actually drawn to us because they feel they can be imperfect as well.
- Separate shame from guilt.
- Shame tells us we are bad
- Guilt tells us we did something bad
We can learn from guilt, but we cannot learn from shame. Shame will hinder our lives because what we will hear over and over again is that we are bad, defected, messed up, or broken. Brene Brown defines shame as the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging. Shame needs secrecy and silence to grow and once we name shame and then confess our shame, it’s power over us begins to loosen.
- Practice authenticity.
Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we’re supposed to be and embracing who we are.
This is a practice, meaning it takes time and the more we practice it the better we become. In order to begin the journey toward freedom from shame, we must journey inward – toward what some have called our True Self. Only after we know our True Self and are able to accept who we are, will we be able to stop the comparing game. I cannot tell you how many times I have compared myself to others, only to walk away feeling shameful because I always found areas of myself where I was not as good as someone else.
- Surround ourselves with people who encourage us.
If this is a struggle, it won’t go away over night – it’s a process. Shame is a powerful hindrance to us experiencing well being and contentment in life. Becoming aware of the power of shame in my life is half the battle, but surrounding myself with people who will see who I am an encourage me is essential. The more I experience their love, acceptance, and support, the less shame can hold me and the more freedom I experience.
Once shame is named, exposed, and then these steps are taken, we can walk into the freedom to be who we are and to believe the truth about ourselves – that each of us is worthy!
 Brene Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection, p. 23.
 Ibid, 39.
 Ibid., 50.