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5 Tips for Dealing With and Overcoming Shame

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OK, breathe Alex, you got this…I do not want to talk about it, says my negative-Nancy inner voice. But I need to says the angel on my shoulder. But I do not want to repeats the mean one.

Gosh, the mental insanity is here as the cursor just blinks on the page between rapid fingers on the keyboard. OK, whatever, I am going to cut to the chase by jumping into a topic that makes me cringe: shame. Additionally, when I say jump, I mean I am literally taking a leap of faith because writing about shame is difficult and it opens the doors for vulnerable stories.

I have felt buckets of shame over the course of my 24 years of life. Thinking about it is overwhelming enough. Where do I even begin? How about the definition of shame? Of course, the dictionary makes it all complicated, but I’m just going to let you all know that shame is basically a feeling of humiliation and distress because the person experiencing the emotion knows that they did something wrong or foolish. Shame can be accompanied by regret and self-hate. It is for me, at least!

The earliest memory I have of feeling shame was when I stole 13 quarters from my parents at the age of 5. I was caught red-handed with saggy pants filled with the largest coin that I thought made me rich. I was scolded and consequentially grounded. Shame feels like a weight in my heart. It feels like butterflies in my stomach and I feel hot in winter weather. My smile turns upside down and my eyes lids get droopy. My shoulders drop and my feet drag.

The most recent memory I have of feeling shame is when I told my therapist that I was masturbating with sex toys because I thought it would help me overcome my fear of male sex-organs. My fear stemmed from familial abuse, and I thought I could take my fear into my own hands. Gosh, I cannot believe I just told you that. Why can’t I believe it? Because I feel shame around something that is common, normal and not bad. Please let me know that I’m not alone.

So, how do I walk away from shame? How do I recover and feel better about myself? I follow these five tips:

1. I tell three people what I did and the emotions that are swelling inside.

2. I write the gory details that I do not necessarily need to voice.

3. I open my mind to suggestions and support from my therapist and the rest of my mental health support team.

4. I repeat a mantra — “I love myself even when I make mistakes,” because beating myself up is my dangerous and addicting habit.

5. I get the shame out of my body. For me, it is literally stuck inside. So, I release the endorphins with running, painting, poetry, journaling, relatable music and nourishing food

For me, shame follows feelings of emptiness. To get to the root of the act that causes shame I need to take a step back and do some internal processing. When I was a 5-year-old, what did I want? Did I want to feel worthy by being the rich toddler in town? Did I not feel paid attention to, and I wanted the spotlight even if it resulted in consequences? Was I rebelling against parental rules that did not seem fair? What did I need? To this day, I will forever wonder and that is the beauty of internal processing.

A banner promoting The Mighty's new No Shame group on The Mighty mobile app. The banner reads, Struggling with self-judgment? The No Shame group is a safe space to talk about the things that tend to make us feel bad about ourselves and how to overcome those challenges. Click to join.

So, with masturbation, what do I need today? With therapy, good friends and a faithful journal, I am learning I need to understand that sex can be beautiful, fun and good for the soul. When being sexually abused as a young teen, I developed not only PTSD but also a hate for men and a fear of sex. So again, what do I need? I need intimacy with a partner that is safe, healthy and life-giving. I need to re-learn that men can be gentle, faithful and loving.

So what steps am I taking today?

Today, I have the amazing opportunity to be in a healthy relationship
where I can be vulnerable about how I feel. I can talk about sexual acts that make me feel shame and sexual acts I am comfortable with. I talk about the shame I feel because I fear intimacy. My partner reassures me that I am normal and a work in progress. He doesn’t blame me for my past and is patient, thank goodness.

Because yes, I do still feel shame from time-to-time. It is a normal feeling, and I don’t need to beat myself up over it anymore. It also does not have to eat me alive anymore because today I have a choice! It can be a feeling that comes into my body and healthily exits my body.

Take a deep breath, talk and let it go. You got this! Shame is not stronger than you, remember that!

Stay Mighty!

Getty image by Victor_Tongdee

Originally published: November 9, 2020
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