Meeting Shame with Radical Love

Shame can be debilitating and such an obstacle to self-acceptance and growth. We’ve sort of created, or at least buy in to (maybe not individually, but society as a whole), this notion that certain things deserve shame.

When I think of my own journey with shame, I think of two things that have been especially helpful:

First, how monumental being in a positive therapeutic relationship was for me, most notably because it was the first time I was able to be raw and real and have someone sit across for me with compassion and non-judgment. It took meeting with several therapists before I found someone who I felt comfortable with enough to expose myself in those ways. I’d had some pretty bad experiences with a couple therapists that had really turned me Be Kind To Yourselfoff from the process, but how incredible it was to find someone who was willing to go on this journey with me where I could share things that I never thought I would say out loud, but eventually could, and would feel so much relief in doing so.

Second, how valuable a practice of mindfulness has been.

Practicing self-compassion myself—in the context of shame, accepting that sometimes I feel shame and not being ashamed of that, has been really helpful. I think that especially as someone in the helping field, there is this sort of unspoken expectation (or at least I’ve perceived it as such) that we are untouched by the realities of feeling shame, self-judgment, etc.

In my experience, it isn’t at all about being untouched by shame, it is more about what I choose to do with it.

If I wake up in the morning and am feeling shameful of my body, I can choose to judge myself for feeling shame (the self talk of “you’re a feminist, educator, counselor, who intrinsically believes that all people, bodies, and souls are beautiful—how can you think this way?

It is this kind of thought that perpetuates unrealistic expectations of beauty for all people, and women and girls especially”) or I can choose to notice that I’m feeling shame and sit with it without judgment—maybe noticing in my body what feels comfortable and what doesn’t or allowing myself to simply sit with the discomfort and know that it will pass, as most things do, or practicing the most radical self-love in whatever way that feels good—noticing my shame and taking a deep breath to send love throughout every ounce of my body—taking a moment to laugh about the extra scoops of ice cream that I had last night before bed that may be tricking my body into shame.

Noticing, not judging.

Meeting the shame with radical love.

Next step on my journey (and thanks for providing me the opportunity to try this out)—being more real with others about shame. How beautiful would it be if we could acknowledge that we all feel shame sometimes?

Being able to acknowledge this shared experience and know that one is not alone—and maybe even being able to laugh about how common or silly some of the things we feel shameful about might be, can be so healing.

Kelly Wilt Kelly Wilt is the Project Coordinator at the  National Sexual Violence Resource Center. Kelly’s travels take her around the world to discover ways to build healthy and peaceful communities where all people can live free of violence. A whole foodie, aspiring runner, and cupcake enthusiast, she can be found playing in the kitchen, chasing sunshine, and on new adventures with her rambunctious little four-legged-pal.

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