Last week, I reached the end of my patience with…shame. As a clinician, I see shame in my clients’ lives every day, no matter if I have just started working with them or if I have been working with them for years. I see shame in every fabric of our culture in the media, which affects all races and cultural backgrounds, leadership, religious affiliations, families, parents with their children, and clinicians with clients. I see it in the world of recovery. I also see it used in business to motivate people, and I ask myself why. Why is our world like this?
I am declaring war on shame, because I am so done with it. I do not want it in my home with my family. I do not want in my practice. I do not want it in my therapy or groups sessions. I do not want in my heart, mind or speech. I want to create a shame free environment in my heart and in the hearts of those around me.
I see so clearly (now more than ever) that shame untreated will kill you. The end result of shame fully manifested is death. At best, shame treated but not fully removed will keep you from becoming the person God intended for you to be, living a life of total, wholehearted freedom. As I have written before, it is not that people do not know their “badness.” It is that they do not know, nor believe, their “goodness.”
Now, there are different kinds of shame. I think we need to define what shame is and what shame is not. What is the difference between shame and guilt? Shame generally says, “I am bad.” “I am a mistake.” Guilt says, “I did a bad thing,” or “I made a mistake.” As you can see, there is a big difference between the two, as guilt has more grace and is an event, not a person.
What kind of shame am I talking about? Shame is not always bad. People who have no understanding or ability to feel shame are what we call in mental health psychopathic or have psychopathy. Therefore, shame can be a good thing and makes us human. This is not the shame I am talking about.
Let’s look at external shame that can come in many forms from our family honor and family name. External shame can also come from parents toward their children, children toward their parents, a spouse toward their partner, a government on its people, people on its government, social media, news, religious organizations, groups, social clubs, fraternities and sororities, communities, schools, social movements, commercial products and sales, save the wales and the environment, or bike to work. The list is endless.
Many of us can keep this kind of shame at bay and off of us. It does not generally stick and has a more difficult time entering our hearts. However, if this external shaming continues, it can become internalized. The person then believes “I am bad” if I do or do not do this or that. The person might also rebel to remove the negative stimulus or remove themselves from this negative stimulus, placing themselves in an environment that is positive and encouraging. Although very present in our culture, this is not the shame I am talking about either.
Some people you might know seem to live shameless. They are not easily embarrassed by their own embarrassing obnoxious behaviors. In fact, they might even provoke or flaunt them, trying to get a reaction out of you and others. This is not the shame I am referring to either.
I am talking about the type of shame good people, who do not believe in their own goodness, deal with. The people who are seeking professional help. They seem to never get past the poor choices they have made or the poor choices others have done upon them. They might know and believe God has forgiven them, but they have never forgiven themselves.
This is internal shame that no one else can see. It is the negative self-talk that believes: “I am a mistake.” “I am bad.” “I am worthless.” “I’m no good.” “I am not good enough, nor will I ever be.” “I am a failure.” “I am a disgrace.” “I am stupid.” “I am ugly.” Or the big one – “I am unlovable.”
This is the shame that is so deadly. Many suicides and homicides have been committed because of it. You will become what you think about. You will become what you believe about yourself whether it is positive or negative. Trying harder and just thinking more positively is not enough. You may take one step forward in overcoming it, but then two steps back the next day. For many, shame has become a friend to them. It’s all they know. To be rid of it once and for all is scary. It’s a risk that makes many feel naked and vulnerable without it. It is the wet blanket: “I love it, but I hate it.”
Here are some steps to begin setting yourself free from shame.
1. FORGIVE YOURSELF
- Write a letter to yourself explaining how you have hurt yourself and others.
- Read the letter out loud to yourself in front of a mirror.
- Then make a list, and forgive each person who has hurt you.
2. IMAGINE A LIFE WITHOUT SHAME
- Imagine, picture and see without shame in your life, as though you are fully forgiven.
- Collect pictures, and look at them every day.
- What does shame free living look like to you?
- How would your life be different?
3. WRITE A NARRATIVE
- Using your 5 senses, write a narrative about what your life looks like living shame free.
4. WRITE ABOUT FRIENDSHIP WITH SHAME
- Write about your friendship with shame and how it has helped you.
- Write about your friendship with shame and how it has hurt you.
- Write about your friendship with shame and tell it goodbye.
5. SHARE YOUR FEELINGS
- Share what you wrote in step 4 above with a safe person.
6. LIST YOUR TAGs
- Make a list of 20 talents, abilities and gifts you see in yourself inside and out.
7. THANK GOD FOR YOUR TAGs
- Speak this list every day out loud to thank God for each talent, ability and gift He has given you, and believe them.
Stop living in shame, and start living shame free today by practicing these simple steps.
Cory Schortzman is an author, speaker, teacher and licensed mental health professional. Since 2008, he has served as the Executive Director of Transformed Hearts Counseling Center in Colorado Springs, CO. He is the founder of SARA, the Sexual Addiction Recovery Association. Cory is passionate about helping couples and individuals overcome sex addiction. He is also passionate about bringing awareness to the public and supporting the elimination of sex and human trafficking. Cory has been married since 1998 to his beautiful wife, Kerry, and lives in Colorado with their four daughters. He and Kerry have been seen on the CBS Early Show, Inside Edition, and ABC Good Morning America, Fox 21 News, and TLC/Discovery discussing the harm of sex addiction and the joys of recovery. He has also been heard on numerous radio programs.
Cory’s books include: Out of the Darkness, Into the Light the Workbook, Into the Light the Steps, Ashes to Beauty the Steps, 301 Dating Ideas, 301 Conversational Ideas, 301 Ways to Say I Love You, 301 Ways to Love Your Children & 301 Recovery Tools & Tips.