Shame is the WORST feeling ... here's how to show it who's boss!
We live in a shame culture that attacks our confidence on a daily basis. Because of this we often feel flawed, unlovable, and unworthy.
Shame is the dark demon in our closet — the monster under our beds. It prowls everywhere: at work, in our families, at school, on the Internet. Shame uses our appearance, gender, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, financial status, addictions and age against us to tear us down. It has no limits or boundaries.
Shame hurts ... bad. Not only emotionally, but also physically. According to Guy Winch, Ph.D., author of Emotional First Aid: Healing Rejection, Guilt, Failure and Other Everyday Hurts, rejection and physical pain are so entwined that when research participants were given Tylenol before beginning a rejection experiment, they experienced less intense feelings than the participants who did not receive Tylenol.
Chronic shame also damages health and can lead to heart disease, digestive illnesses, immune disorders, and migraines, as well as a host of mental and mood disorders. Therefore, it's in our best interest to have an emotional first aid kit and know how to use it to bounce back when that monster rears its ugly head.
Here are 8 bold ways to bounce back when shame or humiliation bring you down.
1. Recognize your personal shame response and identify your triggers. The "shame response" is a chemical and electrical reaction in your body to the meanings we attach to our experiences. A trigger for me is not necessarily a trigger to you. For some of us appearance is a trigger, for others guilt around parenting. Know in advance what stirs up shame for you.
2. Reach out to someone you trust. Notable shame researcher, speaker, and author Brené Brown says to only share with someone who has "earned the right to hear our stories" — someone who offers empathy while being honest. This is one of the most important shame resilience tools we have because empathy heals shame.
So, make a list of the people whose opinions you value (and trust) and carry this list with you. The next time your shame sneaks up on you and takes your breath (and your confidence) away, call someone on the list, as soon as possible.
3. Get a bear hug. Why a bear hug? Neuroeconomist Paul Zak reports that full body hugs of 20 seconds or more encourage the release of oxytocin, the "connection" hormone. Psychologist Matthew Hertenstein says, "Stimulating touch receptors under the skin can lower blood pressure and cortisol levels, effectively reducing stress." Shame increases stress, while hugs decrease it. 'Nuff said.
4. Repeat a mantra to yourself. Shame and humiliation trigger a primal survival response and when this happens, the rational part of our brain usually shuts down. A mantra refocuses your mind, reminding you to act instead of react. Pick a mantra that resonates with you. Here are a few of my favorite mantras:
- "Action is the antidote to despair." – Joan Baez
- "If you give your fear legs, it will run away with your dreams." - L. Collins
- "Excellence does not require perfection." – Henry James
Mantras are easy to use. Carry one with you (in your wallet or purse) or record it on your phone. Choose one as a screen saver for your computer. Write one on your bathroom mirror where you'll see it every day. Type a mantra on pretty paper and frame it for your office desk. Turn a mantra into your laptop password. The important thing is to keep it readily available so you can see it when needed.
5. Create and practice a "shame recovery" ritual. Peter A. Levine, Ph.D., found that movement is essential to recovering from a stress response. So, create a fun playlist of recovery anthems on your smartphone such as: Taylor Swift's, "Shake it Off;" Kelly Clarkson's, "Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You;)" Katy Perry's, "Roar;" and Sara Bareilles', "Brave." Whatever song lifts you up, crank up the music and dance, walk, run or spin any lingering bad energy away.
6. Create a vision board for your goals and dreams. Though shame and humiliation hurt in the moment, you (and your life) still going places! A vision board is a collage of images representing your values and future goals. This visual reminder helps center you during a stressful situation. A great example of the power of a vision board is in the movie, The Gabby Douglas Story. Her family's vision board helps restore Gabby's confidence after a major disappointment.
7. Practice Power Posing. "What is a power pose," you ask? It's standing like "Wonder Woman" or "Super Man" — making like a super hero for two minutes. Amy Cuddy, Ph.D., researches discrimination and stereotyping. She found that power posing lowered cortisol (a stress hormone) and increased testosterone (a confidence boosting hormone).
Students that struck a power pose before going through a rigorous job interview, reported feeling more confident. So follow your Momma's advice: stand tall, keep your shoulders back, and sit straight at your desk. You'll feel better and restore your confidence more quickly.
8. Own your story. One of my favorite Brené Brown quotes states, "Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing we will ever do." To recover your confidence after experiencing shame, you must own your story — all of it. It is only by facing the parts that frighten you most that you realize you ARE enough.
Once you rebound from this shame attack, know that shame or humiliation will likely circle back around and try to kick your butt again ... at some point in your life. But hold your head up high, because now you know how to meet that monster head on and wrestle it back into place. Monica Lewinsky, Oprah Winfrey and Lizzie Velásquez are women who claimed their stories and now share their hard-won wisdom — inspiring others with their courage. Follow their example and reclaim your confidence by grooving to your playlist, asking for hugs, owning your story, and loving yourself.