"When there is no enemy within, the enemies outside cannot hurt you." – African proverb
When I was eighteen, I found myself caught up in a love triangle. It was more like two intertwined love triangles, actually. All was fun and games until I became pregnant. Long story short — the sex, lies, and paternity tests created an "inner shame monster" in my heart and mind that I then dutifully carried around with me for decades.
As if my inner torment wasn't plaguing me enough, it seemed everyone around me also joined together to constantly remind me of my shame, forcing me to wear it like a scarlet letter on my forehead. For years, my resulting lack of self worth, self-esteem, and self-perspective muddled every decision I made.
So what does that look like in real life? Here are 3 powerful ways to pull your shame monster out of the shadows and overcome it:
Step 1: Forgive Yourself
There are two aspect of shame: shame imposed on us from others and the shame we impose upon ourselves. The thing is, the former cannot exist without the latter.
The first step to silencing my shame was to choose to forgive myself in spite of what others thought of me. I had to make this choice consciously, daily, over and over for a while, until eventually it just stuck and took hold. I successfully forgave myself.
Many people get hung up on forgiving themselves because they don't feel worthy. But, this is contrary to how forgiveness actually works. Forgiveness has nothing to do with how you feel, it's a choice. Make the choice long enough, consistently enough, and eventually the feeling of it will catch up.
Step 2: Stack the Good
Peak Performance Strategist Tony Robbins says the best way to overcome shame is to "stack the good." The goal is to shift your focus away from analyzing (and dissecting) all the events and feelings associated with our shame/guilt and, instead, focus on listing out five or more things that we're actually proud of — our successes, our joys, and all that we're thankful for.
By "stacking the good", we overwhelm and flood the shame out of our mind. This process, when combined with our conscious, daily decision to forgive ourselves arms us for the ultimate demise of the "inner shame monster" in Step 3.
Step 3: Protect Others From Shame
In 1998, at the age of 24, Monica Lewinsky endured global shaming when her affair with former President Bill Clinton became an all out public scandal. The scandal annihilated her life. Monica says she is constantly reminded of her mistake and regrets it daily (even nearly two decades later).
Last year, Monica bravely shared her story with Vanity Fair in a powerful, award-winning essay entitled, "Shame and Survival." She also courageously spoke about her experience at "Forbes' 30 Under 30" Summit, as well as at Ted2015.
By overcoming her own guilt and shame, Monica transformed her experience into successfully advocating "for a safer and more compassionate social media environment." Compassion, in lieu of judgment, eliminates the shame imposed on us by others, as well as the shame we impose upon ourselves.
In every moment we can evolve into someone new — into someone even better — regardless of others' opinions and judgments.
We can choose to forgive ourselves and those who would impose shame upon us. After all, we have a myriad of accomplishments to feel proud of, and our "shameful" experiences (when shared) are capable of inspiration and empowerment for those looking to put their own "inner shame monster" to rest.
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