This post is adapted from Chapter 2 of “From Coping to Thriving: How to Turn Self-care into a Way of Life“, which is available now for Kindle and as a PDF.
Self-care relates to shame in two ways:
1. We feel guilty for engaging in self-care—usually because of an underlying belief that we don’t deserve it
2. We feel guilty for not engaging in self-care because we know that it’s a good for us and we feel we should be doing it
The most effective way to overcome shame around self-care is to stop using shame as a teacher in all areas of our life. If we’re susceptible to shame-based language and let it slip into one area of our life, it will spread to other areas in time.
Examine the beliefs: Shame arises out of beliefs about ourselves and the world around us. When we get to the root of the beliefs behind our shame, we can start to question them using our logic and reason. Once we start questioning them, we might realize that we don’t actually agree with them and, from there, we can deconstruct them.
An important part of examining beliefs is taking time to do some archaeology and work out where certain beliefs come from. When we start to question why we have certain beliefs about the world (especially when they’ve been unconscious), we often find that our beliefs are internalized messages from childhood figures like parents, teachers, friends, and other important people. Once we recognize that, we’re better able to separate out internalized beliefs that actually belong to other people from our own true beliefs and values.
Change the language: Notice when you’re using judgmental and shaming language about other people, or when you have particularly strong feelings about other people’s behavior when it doesn’t really affect you. Also notice the difference between your own feelings of guilt and shame. Make it a conscious process to turn the latter into the former: instead of labeling yourself or someone else (“I am bad,” “They are bad”), focus on the actions (“I did a bad thing,” “They did a bad thing”).
Empathize, empathize, empathize: Once we start changing our language and shifting from judgment and shaming to a more objective, self-aware and compassionate view of ourselves and others, we’re in a better position to empathize with our own feelings of shame, either in the past or in the present. Empathy is the antidote to shame: when we show ourselves empathy or open ourselves up to empathy from other people, we are saying “I am understandable, I am relatable, I am acceptable.” When we start to internalize these three beliefs, shame cannot survive.
Are you ready to make the switch from coping to caring? Check out the book and From Coping to Thriving: The Live Course, where we’ll be putting theory into practice this October.