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November 12, 2013

I find this picture inspirational.


It really isn’t a big deal what these children just pulled off,  you know having a vision and utilizing the resources around them to accomplish such a vision. As adults we seem to lose such spirit, such courage, because we have come to learn to internalize shame.

Most people suffer from shame to significant degrees, like how little children love to run around with little or no clothing, and how particular we become about wearing clothes once we reach a certain age. Obviously this is learned through repeated messages we learn from those who have raised us. So on a mild level, we all have some degree of shame in that we wear clothes, especially during the summer months when there really isn’t any functional use for clothing.

On a more severe level, there are people who struggle with the courage to be creative and innovative because of shame. Somehow they have been repeatedly exposed to the message that anything they do or produce isn’t good enough, because they are not good enough. They become so sensitized to the possibility of being rejected through ridicule that they seldom produce anything.

This is the cost of shame, more specifically, the cost of having been exposed to messages where the idea of been worthless has been steadily fed to the listener. The truth is that we are all worthwhile human beings, simply because we exist. The things we set about doing in our lives are not supposed to increase our worth, but enable us to define a sense of meaning and purpose to our lives.

Messages that suggest that people simply aren’t good enough just for being, are  viral and epidemic and the younger people are habitually exposed to these messages, the more likely they are to repeat these false and shame based messages to themselves in their adulthood.

The sad thing is that despite the numerous studies on shame, there is very little literature out there for how people can get past shame. I usually see people who struggle with a deep seeded sense of shame over a variety of issues, they usually come to me when they have reached crossroads in their lives. Where they have come to realize the necessity to pursuing change they want in their lives, but remain in hiding, (psychologically speaking). In some cases they are simply sick and tired of hiding, as hiding has led them to an existential crisis, in regards to their struggle in making sense of a meaning and purpose of their lives.

The  good news is that people can heal themselves from shame their lives. It is a two part process that’s easy to discuss, yet challenging but worthwhile in practice.

The first step is recognizing the primary source and reinforcement of your message of shame, and tuning yourself away from that source or those sources.

For example, I  no longer watch cable news, I instead get my local, national and international news from several sources on the Internet. I also am specific about the types of programs I watch in regards to how healthy the messages are for myself, and my children. I do this because I recognize that most of my conditioning regarding unhealthy ways I view myself have come from mass media.

The situation is so tragic, that I know grown people who habitually complian about how the media doesn’t do a good job of portraying people who look like them. Most people don’t realize that they have subs consciously turned to screen writers and television executives to help define who they are. That last sentence was not meant to offend anyone, it’s simply a truth that most people are too embarrassed to listen to.

This then leads to withing this second step, which is to seek out people  who share and practice the truths about your life you have come to believe. When  people with shared beliefs get together, they reinforce each other in their attitudes and behaviors.

I once worked with a client who was morbidly obese when I started working with her, during the course of our work together she had lost a lot of weight and looked significantly leaner that  her former self. She once informed me that she was going to be taking a break from conversing with a family member. When I asked her why,  she  informed me that this family member gave her a hard time for losing weight and one day requested she not lose too much weight. My client was still significantly overweight but no longer morbidly obese.

She was right, she had come to identify that her progress in getting past shame based messages disguised as lies was impeding her ability to practice living in her identified truths. The human brain is most optimal when congruency is established between beliefs and behaviors. My client struggled in maintaining consistency with her new lifestyle when around family members who did not support her, as she was still very much wired to think like them.

Associating yourself with like minded others brings about more productivity in your life,  so instead of freting how successful an endeavor might be, you are more focused on the practicalities of making that endeavour a reality. With practice, feelings of worthiness and deserving, become second nature to you.

Ugo is a psychotherapist and life coach.

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