Shame. I am intimately acquainted with it. I know the hot sting as shame lashes across me. I know how it feels when shame’s poison oozes through my body, heating my skin, trapping me with its stinging talons, creating feelings of self-doubt and unworthiness. I can remember feeling so consumed by shame at one point, as I was entering adolescence, that I was embarrassed to walk in front of anyone, embarrassed to eat, embarrassed to talk, even embarrassed by my breathing! (Was I breathing too loudly, was I doing it wrong?) Basically, I was embarrassed to be human. Mortified at the thought of all of my imperfections being seen. So filled with shame that I could barely function. So, yeah. I understand the concept and feeling of shame. I’ve been there.
What I know as an adult that I didn’t know as a child is that I can refuse shame. I do refuse shame – and I refuse the people and institutions who would try to instill shame in me. I reject shame. Shame has no place in my life or in my body. How? – you ask? That’s what I’m here to tell you. Overcoming shame has been quite a journey.
I took my first step away from shame when I committed to a self-love path about 30 years ago. I was pregnant with my daughter and already loved her so intensely that I knew I needed to find a way to love myself, so that I could be the mother I wanted to be for her. I wanted her to love herself as much as I loved her. I wanted her to celebrate herself and her body. I wanted her to feel comfortable, safe, and powerful in her body and in the world. Instinctively, I knew I had to create that for myself if I wanted to model that for her. I didn’t do it perfectly – but I did the best I could each step of the way with what I knew at the time and with the energy levels and resources I had in each moment. I’m still doing that. That’s one of the things I’ve learned along this path of self-love – is to accept and even embrace my imperfections, mistakes, and yes, failures.
As a teenager, I read books by John Powell: Unconditional Love, Why Am I Afraid to Tell You Who I Am?, Fully Human, Fully Alive, and more. Even back then, I was searching for unconditional love and acceptance. The problem was that I wasn’t giving those things to my Self! I was looking for them outside of me, thinking that if I could only find someone to really see me and unconditionally love me, then I would be okay. I wasn’t finding that love outside of me, no matter how hard I tried, which only served to increase my shame spiral and feelings of unworthiness. Back then, I fully believed that if I could get “pretty enough” (to my teenage mind, that meant “thin enough”) – if I could just get the “right look” – then I would find “true love.” I shudder now to think that I believed that so strongly, that I was so shallow and so brainwashed in that way – but such was the social programming when I was growing up. It doesn’t mean that I didn’t also have deeper aspects of me or that I lacked intelligence or other values and priorities. I was just so consumed with trying to find love in the only way I knew how – in the way by which I had been bombarded with disinformation through society and media for my entire life – that I struggled to see past that.
My deeper soul work and connection began when I went to the Midwest Academy of Healing Arts. There, I learned about soul retrieval and the undefended self and connecting to my Higher Self. I learned about honoring my Self and listening to my intuition and to my Inner Voice. I started to step into my authentic self and to find my own voice and power.
This work continued when I attended many workshops with HAI (the Human Awareness Institute) – and learned to love myself at deeper and deeper levels – and to accept ALL of me. In those workshops, where I got to experiment and play with who I am and what I want, need, and desire – and where I got to discover boundaries and to connect with an even deeper sense of Self – I discovered that complete self-acceptance and unconditional love for Self freed me from shame.
This happened concurrently with my involvement in the fat acceptance/body liberation movement – and the whole-hearted rejection of body shaming, which had been (up until that point) a driving factor in my life. Attending NAAFA (the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance) conventions and celebrating bodies of all ages, colors, shapes, sizes, and abilities was transformative for me.
Which brings me back to shame. Shame lived in my body for many years. I had believed that if I could achieve a state of near perfection, that I could escape shame. What I learned was that as I embraced my humanity and my imperfections, I could release shame. I could refuse shame. Shame cannot find a home in me anymore. Shame may knock on my door from time to time, but it will not be admitted. The way I make shame move away from me is to embrace whichever part of me shame is attempting to attack. I’ve made a commitment to love my Self unconditionally – to allow “imperfections” and humanity and whatever else shows up in me. I’ve given myself the promise that I’d wished once upon a time to receive from someone else: “I love you now and forever. There is no part of you – in the past, present, or future – that I find unacceptable or unlovable. I love you unconditionally. You are safe with me.”
I realize that we are social creatures and that we all need to feel a sense of belonging and connection. I get that. However, I think that it is equally, if not more, important that we connect with our Selves – that we offer the kind of love that we all deep down crave and need to our Selves. I don’t believe that can actually come from anyone else. Other people may love us deeply – but we are the only people who can experience everything going on inside of us (what we can perceive of it, at least – there are vast areas of ourselves that don’t even come into our conscious awareness) – and we are the only ones who can hold unconditional love for all of who we are. And … we can love ourselves unconditionally even if we don’t do it “perfectly.”
Living in a world that constantly tells us – in whispers, screams, and shouts – that we aren’t “good enough,” that we aren’t “worthy” – that we are flawed and we need fixing, that we need to do things a certain way (not our own way) – can sometimes knock us off our center. It’s to be expected. AND … when that happens, we can hold ourselves in grace and compassion and return over and over again to unconditional love for ourselves. That gentle welcoming of ALL of who we are moves us into inner peace. We welcome the rage, the anger, the disappointment, the hopes, the dreams, the almost unbearable love we feel and carry, the grief, the confusion, the loneliness, the desires, the whole human experience that we live. We welcome it and we choose to love ourselves unconditionally. There is no shame in being human.
If we conform or even pretend to conform to what we perceive are society’s expectations of us – if we sell out who we really are and hide what we truly feel, need, desire, and want in order to “fit in” – then we sacrifice any chance at a real sense of connection and belonging. How many people have secretly worried, “If they really knew me, they wouldn’t like me”? How many women, particularly (although some men do this too), have been caught in the traps of people-pleasing, over-thinking, and anticipating other people’s needs, rather than considering their own needs? Is that actually connection, then? Is there a real sense of belonging when someone is busy trying to meet the needs of others (so they matter, so they belong?) rather than being valued and loved for who they actually are?
I am questioning whether we can have a real sense of connection and belonging if we don’t actually love and accept ourselves at a deep level. We can certainly feel love for others, of course. We can have a sense of being needed, a feeling of being of service – and that can make us feel good about ourselves in a way. But if we weren’t needed and weren’t of service, would we still be loved, would we still belong, would we still be wanted, would we still matter? I think that underneath it all, those are questions that plague people-pleasers and people who haven’t learned to deeply love themselves. We need to have a sense of worthiness that is independent of what we can do for or offer to others, that is independent of how we look or what we accomplish. Just by virtue of being alive, we are worthy of all of the good that life has to offer. We are worthy of love – of loving and of being loved. So many of us feel that we are only worthy if we look a certain way or if we accomplish certain things – as if we had to somehow earn our innate worthiness. And so many of us, as Thoreau once said, “lead lives of quiet desperation.”
What if we took the chance of allowing ourselves to be seen? Really seen – as we are. Authentic. Vulnerable. Powerful. All of it. What if we reclaimed all of who we are? Brought back all of the pieces that we discarded along the way because of shame and embarrassment? What if we honored our disappointments? What if we held compassion for all of the parts of us that we feared weren’t good enough or made us “less than”? What if we gave ourselves grace and humor for our developing bodies, our aging bodies, our perfectly imperfect, unique, diverse, human bodies? What if we gave ourselves grace and humor for the ways we’ve been in the world, the ways we now move in the world, the lessons learned and the lessons to come, and all of the experiences of our own lives? What if we held all of who we were, who we are, and who we will be in a space of unconditional love? How would our connections be then? To ourselves – and to others?
What if we knew – no matter who outside of us accepted us or rejected us – we knew that we had our own backs, that we would love and accept our Selves no matter what? Sit with that thought a moment. Sit with the possibility of holding that kind of love for yourself. What if the connection and belonging that we seek were really a connection with our Selves and a belonging to our Selves? And from that place of wholeness within us, we could interact with others without editing ourselves, without compromising ourselves, without betraying ourselves, without selling ourselves out for approval and the “security” of “belonging?” And thus, we were able to create the truly authentic and heart-centered connections with others that we so desire? What if we took our own power all of the way back into ourselves and had excellent boundaries around who we are, what we want and don’t want, and what we will accept or will not accept in our own lives? What if we held ourselves sacred?
There are many things that I could feel shame about in my life. So many things. Failed relationships. Failed business ventures. So many mistakes I’ve made along the way – and incredibly severe lapses in judgment at times. Severe! LOL Many people would be ashamed of my current financial situation. I’m not. It is what it is. I choose to focus on gratitude and to love myself. Many people would think I should be ashamed of my body. I’m not. I reject any body shame for any reason – whether it’s body size, shape, health status, or any other condition of the body. What anyone else does with their body is up to them and not for anyone to judge … and, for me, I don’t wear makeup or heels, I no longer shave my underarms or my legs, and I reject gender-based “norms.” I do shave my chin because it has gotten past the point of tweezing – and I’m not ashamed of the natural processes of my body, including hair growing on my face. It is what it is – and this is a truth for many women. I refuse shame. I hold my Self, my body, and my life sacred.
I don’t care if people who hold values that are not in alignment with my own values reject me. Wanting to be liked by everyone is a dangerous trap, as is looking outside of ourselves for love and approval. We need to give that to our Selves. Mona Eltahawy, a brilliant feminist, recently wrote, “If you’re wondering where along my menopause journey I am, it is far enough that if I hear a voice in my head saying “Oh my god, you can’t write about that!” I WILL IN FACT WRITE ABOUT THAT.” I love that so much. Stepping out of the box over and over again. Refusing shame. Holding unconditional love and reverence for ourselves and each other. We are sacred. No matter how we look, what we do, how we struggle, how we learn, how we move through this life, what happens to us, the successes and the failures we experience – we are sacred. Let’s hold ourselves sacred.
Speaking of holding ourselves sacred and stepping out of shame, I’ve got two workshops coming up. Holding Yourself Sacred – A Workshop For Women, and Shame Stompers – A Workshop For Women. I have linked them – if you’d like to know more, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I also do individual coaching and am happy to talk with you about that. Please love yourself. Know you are worthy. Give yourself the gift of accepting all of who you are with the unconditional love that is available for you to claim in every moment. Love is the truth of who you are.