We all have our moments when we don’t show up as our highest selves; choices we’d make differently, given the opportunity to choose again. Times when we were tested, and failed in our efforts to handle it well. We have people we’ve hurt, hopefully unintentionally, but also sometimes because we were young and thoughtless, or careless or selfish, or simply didn’t realize who we were yet, or the ramifications of what we were doing. Most people, given the chance to talk freely and safely, will tell you they carry shame around something. It could be the way they parent sometimes. It could be the way they show up in relationships, or don’t. It could be around a specific incident, when they had a choice to make, and regret their course of action. It could be that something happened to them and they feel broken or ugly or marred in some un-fixable way. This is life, this is being human; it isn’t easy, it isn’t always pretty, and sometimes we need help in order to see things clearly.

Shame is debilitating and nothing productive grows out of that feeling. What results is usually self-loathing or a feeling of being totally alienated, or both. You don’t have to share every dark moment from your past, but if you feel the need to hide things from those closest to you, or worse, from yourself, that’s a well of pain you’re going to have to dip into at some point if you want to be free of it. There’s a big difference between healing something so that there isn’t any need to talk about it anymore, and hiding it, running from it, numbing it out, or denying it. There’s a difference between taking your time and building trust with someone before you make yourself incredibly vulnerable, and rejecting pieces of yourself so completely, no one knows they exist, and even you deny them to yourself–rewriting history in your mind, pretending it happened a different way.

There’s something about the internet that makes people feel free to say anything. Sometimes that can be a horrible thing, when people lose all compassion and empathy for the person on the receiving end of their tirade or judgement or cruelty, because they’ve forgotten there is, in fact, a human being at the end of it. Other times, it can be liberating and beautiful, like when an email arrives from someone who shares something with me they’ve been carrying around for years. Maybe their heart is racing and their hands are shaking when they hit “send”, but at the same time, their heart is saying yes, finally. Shame is heavy; dragging it around with you requires a lot of energy and effort, energy that could be used for something productive, like living life in a way that feels good, developing the tools to heal, and realizing you are not broken.

Here’s the thing–the past is over; it can’t be rewritten or redone. If you’ve made mistakes, welcome to the human race. That’s how we learn. You might look back and wish with all your heart you hadn’t needed to learn certain lessons, but I wouldn’t get stuck looking back for too long. The thing is now. Now has a ton of potential, and it’s weightless. Nothing has happened yet. You can start again at any time. If you have regrets, I think it can be a beautiful exercise to apologize when possible, even if it’s ancient history, and you think the other party has completely moved on. You may not get forgiveness in return, but that isn’t the point. You might not even send the apology if you think it would be hurtful to disrupt the person’s life. Like anything else we long for, it really has to come from inside you. Forgiveness, I mean. Sometimes just going through the effort to write a thing down, so it’s not in your head anymore, but there on paper or on your computer screen in black and white, can be enough to cause a shift. If you’re dealing with something that happened to you, writing it down can also be powerful. Expressing your rage or your pain or the many ways this thing has affected you can be freeing. Unhooking your journey from the person who hurt you; it’s the carrying this stuff that gets you. It’s the weight of it.

There are some things that will never be okay, that’s just reality, that’s just life with all of its everything. Maybe there are things you can’t make right no matter how much you’d do or give to have it be otherwise. Maybe you’ve suffered a loss so great nothing will completely heal it, maybe it’s a scar you’re going to bear. It’s the shame you want to release, because shame brings it into the now. Shame takes a thing and makes it part of your present, even if the event or the tendency or the choice is way back behind you in your rear-view mirror. Shame says you’ll never be different and you aren’t capable, and you aren’t worthy of love or joy, and you’ll never get it right. Shame is an anchor and it can also be an excuse not to try, it can suck the try right out of you. Shame lies and it usually travels with guilt, and if you expect to be able to get far with those two as your traveling companions, you’re going to be sorely disappointed. There may be a mess behind you. That doesn’t mean there can’t be beauty out in front of you. Sometimes, you just have to take the wheel.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

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8 thoughts on “Shame”

  1. Much like the beauty of confession for Catholics. To acknowledge the wrong that has brought shame. To express this out loud. To be shown a way to forgive yourself. Through prayer or meditation in prayer to a higher power, but mostly to ourselves. Sed libera nos a malo.

  2. As a person who used alcohol to cover up shame, only to create more shame, I can remember the hot flush of shame as it crawled over my body. It wasn’t until I was courageous enough to let myself feel it all the embarrassment the guilt and remorse that it dispersed and I didn’t need to keep trying to drown it.This is another lovely piece of wisdom Ally, it hits the spot.

  3. Thanks Ally I look forward to your daily articles. Still trying to lose the blame and shame from childhood events. Looking at remapping my neural pathways to ones that are positive not negative and filled with fear can be hard. You articles help bring positivity to my day and help me know I am on the right path:)

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