What Shame Is and How to Get Past It

Issue 39. September 8, 2023 ✨ Higher Power Coaching & Consulting

photo credit: Ave Calvar

Many of us in recovery use and abuse substances because of the feeling of shame. The drugs or the alcohol or the food or sex or whatever it is temporarily take away the feeling of shame.

The thing about addiction is that it then fuels the shame. We feel ashamed about our drunken behavior, then we drink more to bury the same.

This is why it’s so important to be able to deal with shame. If we keep feeling ashamed, which is such a shitty feeling, then we’re probably going to relapse. For me, shame is worse than ever terror. And humiliation – which I think of as public shame – is ever worse!

My journey of recovery has included understanding that that shitty feeling I experienced really frequently, and that flood of inner chemicals I often felt in social situations was shame. And that it was separate from me. It was a feeling I was having, it wasn’t ME.

Yet another astonishing thing I just didn’t know about myself, even after decades of therapy and personal development.
It was in recovery that I learned this brilliant acronym which captures the essence of shame for me:


That is, shame is what happens to me when I feel like a fool for not knowing something, or for being something or someone who doesn’t quite fit in or understand the rules of the situation. Shame was so pervasive in my life that I didn’t even understand it was shame, that it was something separate from me, and that I didn’t have to live like that.

Subconsciously, I felt like there was  something inherently wrong with me. I say “subconsciously” because, on the surface, I liked myself. But that was only on the surface. There was much more going on inside.

When I’d make a mistake or do something that caused a flood of shame, it made me feel absolutely awful, like I’d committed some heinous crime. Meanwhile, it was something benign like mispronouncing a word!

When I think about how I overcame this burden of shame, it boils down to self-compassion. If you feel an overpowering sense of shame, especially for things that normal people don’t feel ashamed about, then I encourage you to start cutting yourself some slack.

Chances are, you give others the benefit of the doubt. You have compassion for others when they make mistakes or missteps. Start extending that “slack” to yourself. Don’t preclude yourself from the grace you extend to others, the forgiveness you give to others.

You don’t need to live mired in shame (or maybe even paralyzed by it, especially when it comes to setting boundaries with people!). You deserve to treat yourself with the same dignity and respect you treat others.

If you believe in treating others fairly, include yourself in that fairness.
If you believe in being compassionate to others, include yourself in that compassion.
If you believe others are doing the best they can, include yourself in that belief.
If you believe in being loving, tolerant and understand of others, extend those same courtesies to yourself. After all, you’re a human too.

It’s hypocritical to believe others deserve these kinds of courtesies but you don’t. Some would say it’s actually arrogant to believe others deserve these things and you don’t (and believe me, I know arrogance!). It’s arrogant because you believe you are so exceptional, that you don’t deserve the same kindness others do.

And of course you deserve it. Everyone does. We’re all FLAWESOME!

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