Fortunately, I’ve learned how to stop shame in its tracks before it derails my life and I want you to know how to do that, too.
The first step is to see it.
I was ashamed that I hadn’t seen my grandmother in eight years. What are you ashamed of? It might be royally screwing up at work. Or screaming at your kids last night. Maybe it’s the fact that you haven’t seen the inside of a gym in two years. Or the emotional affair you’re having. Whatever it is, admit it. When you pull the curtains back, you’ll make your shame visible.
Second, I want you to list out your excuses.
Seeking to understand your excuses is one of the most powerful tools in helping you end the shame game. Notice I didn’t say justify. I said understand. When you understand WHY you did what you did, you can change for the better.
Maybe you’re stressed out trying to pay your mortgage and that’s making you overwhelmed at work. Maybe you fought with your mom and then took it out on your kids. Maybe you haven’t had sex with your partner in 9 months and you’re really lonely and feeling unloved.
In my case, when I realized it had been eight years since I last saw Gram, a million excuses began to flood my mind to try to lessen the pain I felt. And I could find so many reasons why eight years had passed in the blink of an eye:
She lives in a place that’s so hard to get to. I didn’t grow up near her, my grandparents ran a bakery, and my folks had their businesses, so finding time off to travel wasn’t easy. I’ve been consumed with raising kids, getting out of debt, and building my own business. I live on planes which means when I am not working, I want to be home with my kids. My gram doesn’t have email, a cell phone, social media, or texting–which is how I stay connected to people these days. If she had Facebook, I’d be messaging and tagging her in posts all the time. Blah, blah, blah...
All of those excuses are real, and while they do NOT justify letting eight years go by, they offer an explanation that allows me to understand WHY they did.
Which brings me to step three: forgiving yourself.
Once you understand WHY you acted in a certain way, it’s easier to forgive yourself. And the easiest way to forgive yourself is to transform your shame into guilt. Unload the blame from yourself and place it onto your actions.
To change your shame, let’s play a game. Okay, totally corny, but remember Mad Libs? Just fill in this sentence...
I forgive myself for [what I did], even if I feel guilty about it, because I [list excuses].
In my case, rather than thinking “I’m the World’s Worst Granddaughter,” and putting the blame inward, I changed my thoughts to “I forgive myself for not visiting my grandma, even if I feel guilty about not visiting, because I know I’ve been so busy and I was doing the best that I could.”
When you forgive yourself and focus on next steps, rather than dumping all over yourself, you transform shame into guilt and use it as fuel take your power back.
Finally, step four is to take action.
As I said before, guilt is actually a really useful emotion because it moves us into action. The best antidote to guilt is doing something about how you feel! When you start to take actions based on what you’ve learned from your mistakes, your actions will affirm for you that you are learning, and you begin to see yourself differently.
You know what I always say: When you know better, you do better. And now you will.
In my case, after forgiving myself, I immediately looked at my calendar and figured out how to find the time to squeeze in a trip to the middle of nowhere to see Gram.