I recognize shame in myself as the fear of what other people think about me. While many people feel shameful about a specific event that has happened to them or something they've done in the past, for me it's more a general fear of what other people are thinking based on my own feelings of unworthiness. It makes me feel self-conscious, restricts my movements and actions, leaving me feeling trapped. It's common for many people to feel a sense of shame about themselves. At an anger management workshop I recently attended, I felt free to dance uninhibitedly at the end while I noticed the girl next to me being much more constricted. Healing shame is a process, and she was slowly releasing her inhibitions as she was making progress. Shame is still one of my main areas of frustration with myself, but I have come a long way when it comes to healing my own shame and being free to be myself.
I think I inherited most of my shame from my mother. She seems most worried about what other people think of her when it comes to displaying emotions. I have often heard her say “There's no point worrying about what other people think”; yet she has always held back on expressing emotions directly. While these may be contradictory positions, I too find that my attitude to my own shame can be polar opposites at times: on the one hand, I'm thinking “Who cares what other people think? That's just a self-imposed limitation I'd rather be free of” and on the other, I can feel so self-conscious that I don't act the way I would like. On the dance floor I hold back from trying anything new for fear of what other people would think. Attitudes like these make learning anything new very slow progress because we're always constrained to what we think is socially acceptable and reluctant to risk trying anything new or daring because we're avoiding failure that might bring our shame and feelings of unworthiness to the surface.
It's one think to know where shame comes from, but it's quite another to know what to do to heal it. Shame and self-esteem are inversely related; shame cuts me to the core because it tells me, incorrectly, that I am unworthy. It limits my freedom to be myself and to interact with people in the way I would like.
The “cure” for shame, as far as I can tell, is to share the shame with other people. This gives them the opportunity to be cured of their own shame, and helps us to see that the things we feel shameful about don't actually bother other people anywhere near as much as we thought. Sure, some people will be judgmental; after all, that's probably what caused the shame to develop in the first place. But judgmental people only act they way they do to avoid their own feelings of unworthiness; their harsh judgments aren't actually about us at all, they're about them. Most self-aware people will recognize their own shame in what we share, and be able to empathize.
So, if you suffer from shame too, feel free to let me know your deepest, darkest, most shameful stuff; I promise to be accepting and non-judgmental. All I ask in return is that you do the same for me.