I’ve done some shitty things in my life. Epic mistakes that I wish I could take back:
I’ve cheated on partners and betrayed best friends.
I’ve been cruel to people I care deeply about.
I’ve been dishonest and ‘massaged’ the truth to avoid consequences.
I’ve been selfish and reckless and irresponsible. (Alcohol, I’m looking at you).
For most of these I was young and foolish. But for others I was definitely old enough to know better.
At times, living with the shame and guilt of these fuck-ups has been crippling.
And even though people will tell you that you need to love yourself, it’s hard to do that with the weight of your past mistakes weighing down on you.
Moving From Shame into Self Love
Self-love sounds like a beautiful idea – but how do you love yourself when you feel completely messed up?
Overcoming shame is not an easy path, but in my humble opinion, it’s the only path worth taking.
Because shame and guilt won’t get you anywhere good.
You might think that carrying the shame of your mistakes will somehow teach you to do better.
But as shame researcher (and all round self-loving badass) Brené Brown discovered, shame doesn’t lead to positive change.
Instead, it leads to a downward spiral:
Shame makes us feel so fucked up that we end up doing more fucked up things. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. One that buries us deep in self-loathing.
But you can dig yourself out.
How to Release Yourself From Shame
Over the years, I’ve learned how to move from shame into self love. It hasn’t been easy, especially when shame tricks you into thinking you should hold onto it. (It’s sneaky like that).
But the undeniable truth is that you’re worthy of living a life without shame:
You’re worthy of self-love. You’re worthy of LOVE. Despite your mistakes. Despite your fuckups. In fact, you’re worthy of love BECAUSE of them – because ultimately, they make you human.
Releasing yourself from shame isn’t some simple formula. But there are 5 important steps to help move you from shame into self love. At times gruelling, yet ultimately liberating.
If you want to walk these steps with someone by your side, this is the kind of work I do in my coaching practice (you can learn more here). Or you can find someone who you trust and ask them to be your companion in shame. Or you can take these steps and forge a path all on your own.
Here’s how to release yourself from shame and discover self-love.
How To Release Shame Step #1
Own Your Mistake
You’ve no doubt heard this platitude before. At first glance, it seems easy to do:
“I apologised. I said I was sorry. I’ve already owned it, right?”
Owning your mistake goes much deeper. In fact, this step has nothing to do with apologies. Instead, it starts with a brutally honest conversation – with yourself.
The goal of this internal conversation: To find where this thing was your fault.
Here’s a surprisingly easy question to ask yourself:
What’s the bit I wish I didn’t do?
What’s the bit that caused people pain – myself or those I care about?
This is what you need to own. Without looking to reasons or excuses. Without trying to shift the blame. Without trying to escape all the uncomfortable feelings it brings up.
The truth is, there’s going to be lots of reasons for what you did. (Some better than others).
And when it comes to shame, you’ll try your best to hold onto those reasons. Because reasons and justification feel like respite. A way of side-stepping the full force of shame. It makes the debilitating weight seam easier to bear.
Reasons are an important part of the story – but not in this step.
Because this process can’t begin until you’ve taken ownership of your fuck up. Til you look it squarely in the eye and say, “Yeah, this is where I went wrong.”
It takes incredible courage and strength. And it’s the first step of earning back your self-respect.
How To Release Shame Step #2
Understand Why You Did It
Now we can talk about reasons.
There’s always a reason why you did something. And when you understand the why, you’re better equipped to do something about it.
Without understanding the why, there’s no real way of knowing it won’t happen again. Unless the underlying cause has been addressed, history has a way of repeating itself.
It’s why you should never trust a justification of, “It just happened.”
Yes, it might seem to have ‘just happened’. But there’s always an underlying motive driving behaviour:
- A desperate need to belong. To feel loved. To feel worthy.
- A desire to feel powerful. To feel important. To feel strong.
- A craving to feel free. To put down the weight of responsibility. To forget and be forgotten.
You need to find that why.
The reason is not an excuse. There’s a huge difference.
An excuse wants to shift the blame. A reason seeks to understand it.
Since you’ve already owned your part in step one, this step is all about understanding.
Understanding ‘why’ is how you show self-awareness. And self-awareness is the only way you ever grow.
How To Release Shame Step #3
Compassion comes when we truly understand someone. When we hear their story. When we feel their story, without the moral filter of ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. It’s empathy and tenderness and love, all wrapped up in one big gooey package.
Self-compassion is recognising your humanness. Being generous towards yourself and your perceived flaws. It’s being gentle and kind that you don’t have it all figured out yet. (‘Cause seriously – who has it all figured out?)
When you sit with your shame and own your story, there may be reasons behind your behaviour that seem hard to accept:
- I was being selfish and only thinking about myself. I didn’t even stop to consider how this would impact others.
- I wanted to feel powerful, even if it made other people feel small.
- I wanted to feel good, no matter what the cost.
Yet even these reasons deserve your compassion. Because we can all be selfish. We can all seek power. We all want to feel good.
Compassion doesn’t excuse the mistake, or condone the behaviour. And it’s not saying you want to do it again.
What compassion does say is:
“Hey. I get it. I can see how that happened. I understand that you felt that way, and made those decisions. ‘Cause you’re human. You’re not alone in that.”
Compassion is more than empathy and understanding though. It’s also entwined with a desire to action. To ease the suffering of others, and in this case, yourself.
And there’s only one action that can truly ease your suffering. And it’s the hardest step of all:
How To Release Shame Step #4
Some people have a lot of resistance to forgiving themselves. They think that it lets them off the hook.
And yes, it does. That’s a good thing. You don’t have to live your entire life strung up on a hook, OK?
“But if I forgive myself, aren’t I more likely to do it again?”
No. Carrying around guilt and shame doesn’t prevent you from messing up again. It actually makes you more likely to. Because toxic shame spiral.
Forgiving yourself is the best chance you’ve got of actually creating change. And it’s the only way you’ll ever find the holy grail of self-love.
It’s not about shifting the blame. It’s about giving yourself a break.
Give yourself permission to take those heavy-ass shame chains off and let them go.
There’s 3 words you’ll need for this. You can practice saying them with me now:
“I forgive me.”
Nice. Let’s try it again.
“I forgive me.”
And then do it. Actually forgive yourself. Let that forgiveness settle into your bones. Let it lift your chin and square your shoulders. Let it lighten your soul. Let it open the door to self-love and self-respect. (You know those guys, right? They’ve been waiting outside for you to finally let them in).
It may not be time for all that just yet. You probably need to go through these other steps first and give them time to marinate. That’s fine. Just don’t wait too long.
It’s common to think that forgiveness only happens once somebody else has forgiven you. This is a recipe for disaster.
If you can receive forgiveness from that person, awesome. But that’s not always possible.
Sometimes the person isn’t in your life anymore. Sometimes they’re too deep in their pain (or too attached to it) to forgive you. Sometimes they’re actually an asshole and just want to rub it in.
Sometimes, forgiveness doesn’t feel right to a person. And you’ve have to respect that.
But that doesn’t mean it’s not right for YOU.
Be brave. Be bold. Forgive yourself.
How To Release Shame Step #5
Here’s the thing about change – it’s a slow burn. It takes time to demonstrate that things are different:
That you can be more honest.
That you can put the bottle down (or whatever vice has you fucking up your life).
That you can be faithful and honourable and trustworthy.
But change also happens in an instant. When you decide, right here, right now, that you’re doing things differently. That YOU are different.
It takes a shit-tonne of faith in yourself to do that. To back yourself and believe that now, you are different. Simply because you decided you are.
The thing is, you might relapse. There is some change that’s notoriously difficult to achieve. (Quitting alcohol and drugs being a fine example.)
But that doesn’t undermine the change that’s happening – as long as you stay the course for your ultimate goal. Whatever that might be.
Because change isn’t a straight line. It’s a messy and complicated process.
And if you do relapse, this process kicks back in. You go right back to step one. You own it and you understand it. You grant yourself compassion and forgiveness. And then you keep on changing and growing.
But don’t think of it as having to start all over again.
Think of yourself as a fierce bird of prey. Circling around and around on a hot air thermal, but ultimately, always rising.
Yeah, you’re a fucking Golden Eagle. Or a Bat Falcon. Or an Osprey. (#birdnerd) You deserve love, not shame. You deserve freedom, not guilt.
Soar, baby. Soar.
How To Release Shame Bonus Step:
Share Your Story
“Shame derives its power from being unspeakable… If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can’t survive.”
~Brené Brown, Daring Greatly
One of the greatest things you can do to transform shame into self love is share your story.
It doesn’t have to be some public declaration or #vulnerablity Facebook post. In most cases, that’s totally the wrong move.
Because sharing your story usually works best when it’s told to a select group of people – most often a group of one – who will honour your story. Who will sit in a place of non-judgement. Who have compassion and love in their heart. Maybe even someone who’s been there before.
It’s why coaching and therapy is so effective.
It’s why a close friend or family member is so important.
It’s why talking with someone – anyone – helps.
I see it in my clients, and I’ve seen it in the countless sharing and healing circles I’ve led and been led in:
The power of being witnessed in your story.
Not to try and fix or judge or change it.
But to be heard. To be felt. To be understood.
And what often happens is something incredibly, heart-breakingly beautiful:
A person listening will say (or think), “Yeah, me too. I’ve been there (or somewhere similar). I know how that feels.”
It reminds us of our humanness. It reminds us that we’re not alone.
Because that’s the lie that shame will tell us. That we’re alone. That we’re miserable and unworthy and beneath all others.
But when we share our story, the lie is called out, and you realise the truth:
You’re not alone. You’re a beautifully flawed and complex human. And you’re worthy and deserving of love.
Starting with the love that matters most: The love that you give yourself.
Hi, I’m Jodie - a life, love, and sexual empowerment coach. I work with women and couples to help them create the lives, love, and sex they’ve always wanted. More love, more passion, more pleasure, and more fulfilment.
Apply for a complimentary 1:1 coaching session here.