Shame and low self-esteem
Shame is something that affects all humans, barring psychopaths. According to Brené Brown, PhD it has one of two effects on people when they hear the word: “I have no idea what you’re talking about", or, "I know exactly what you’re talking about, and I don’t want to talk about it.” So either way, we’re not talking about it, which is exactly what shame would have us do - stay small and quiet, wallowing in the intense pain of feeling and believing we're not good enough, fundamentally flawed and unworthy. Spend too long wallowing here, and you have a recipe for low self esteem. Particularly if you keep throwing in comparison to the no shortage of examples of who is better than you are.
It is thought that at some point shame was evolutionarily adaptive for keeping us conforming to the standards of our tribe. It is also thought that shame is closely related to control. If we believe it is our own fault that someone is rejecting us, it gives us the power to be able to do something differently in order to be liked. This can be preferable to feeling helpless over the feelings and behaviours of others. This is often the way that children use to learn shame growing up. Unfortunately, unchecked shame is correlated with a whole host of undesirable outcomes including depression, anxiety, addiction, eating disorders, violence and suicide to name a few.
What can be helpful in learning from mistakes and improving our relationships, is the construct of guilt. While shame is belief that I am bad, guilt is a focus on behaviour that alerts us we have potentially done something bad, and an action is much easier to fix than being inherently flawed. Shame is also different than embarrassment, which is an often funny and brief experience that doesn’t leave us feeling utterly alone in the world. Humiliation is also different - it is the same feeling as shame, but the belief is that we didn’t deserve that treatment.
Although as social beings we are hardwired to feel shame, it is possible to become more shame resilient. This is often associated with a feeling of self-confidence and self-trust. Here are 10 things you can do to overcome the debilitating effects of shame and boost your self confidence:
1- get to know your feelings. Shame, along with guilt, humiliation, embarrassment, anger, sadness, happiness, fear, disgust, and surprise to name a few. The more you identify your feelings, the less control they will have over you, and the more confidence you will have in managing them.
2- speak shame. Shame hates having words wrapped around it. Sharing your shame experience with someone you trust can help you truth check your story and remind you that you are not alone in how you feel.
3- get clear on your values. Know what is important to you and act with integrity. This way, no matter how others perceive you, your self worth will remain in tact.
4- accept that the way others feel and behave has nothing to do with you. Others have free will to be open or closed, loving or unloving, and you are not the cause, nor can you control it.
5- set boundaries. Let your feelings guide you to a sense of what is ok and not ok for you. Know that communicating your boundaries is the most compassionate thing you can do for yourself and others.
6- set reasonable goals and take consistent action. Don’t overcommit, so you can be reliable and do what you say you’ll do.
7- own your mistakes. Perfection is impossible, mistakes will be made. Hold your self accountable to what you value, circle back, apologize and make amends.
8- be wary of comparison and gossip. Both are seductive in the moment, but over time, rob us of our joy, peace, trust and connection.
9- check negative self talk. Self judgement only serves to increase emotional pain. If you want to improve self confidence and shame resilience, talk to yourself the way you would talk to somebody you love. If you can be your own worst enemy, you can also be your greatest potential ally.
10- be kind towards yourself and others. Doing good to others gives a sense of meaning and purpose that is extremely healing, and helpful for making the word a better place.