Today is World Mental Health Day! Its a day we can openly talk about (and shout about) mental health awareness. When I speak to people about their mental health the word 'shame' comes up a lot. Not that people feel shame because of their mental health, but because others find it difficult when they mention their mental health experiences.
So today I want to talk about how to overcome the debilitating effects of shame and why it is so important for all of us to be open about it. If we are to create a healthy environment where everyone can talk about their vulnerabilities and overcome their fears, we need to bust out of the shame mindset.
When Brene Brown, author of the Power of Vulnerability, was invited to speak about her early research, she was asked not to talk about shame because it would put people off their dinner! What is it about shame that resonates so deeply, and uncomfortably with all of us? During our childhood many of us will have experienced occasions when we did something and were made to feel embarrassment or guilt, but shame isn’t about just those moments, it is about the moments when we unknowingly integrate those feelings into our very sense of self.
What is shame?
Shame is a belief not just that we have done something wrong, but that we ourselves are fundamentally wrong in some way. When we feel shame, we want to disappear and it can be very difficult to find peace with ourselves.
How does shame affect our lives?
While guilt is a passing emotion and can be part of a healthy process of dealing with our feelings (admitting ‘I made a mistake’ and moving on), shame often feels stuck, immoveable. Because it attaches to our sense of who we are and makes us feel bad about ourselves, it can be deeply damaging for our self-esteem and confidence. In the worst cases shame can lead us to respond to situations with severe anger, withdrawal, anxiety or depression.
This is because shame leaves us feeling exposed. This can be frightening, and fear triggers our fight or flight response. If this escalates into a fearful mindset, we may find ourselves constantly worrying what others will think of us, afraid we will say or do something that will lead to rejection or social isolation.
How can you manage shame?
We often learn shame during our childhood. As children we are told, sometimes on a regular basis, that we have done something wrong, or need to do better and it can feel like we have let others, and ourselves, down. These feelings can be confusing, frustrating and challenging and as children we don’t have the experience to put them into context.
By accessing the origins of a shame belief and making peace with it, we can release it, and its affect on our lives. Hypnotherapy techniques, such as regression, can help to discover the original memory or memories that boosted the shame response and change it. It can also help to change the negativity bias of the brain so that instead of looking for proof that reinforces a negative self-image, the brain begins to find evidence to support new beliefs that we are liked, loved and valued for who we are.
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