by Dr. Dan Peters
It is the time of year when we choose a “resolution,” usually consisting of something to work on such as lose weight, exercise more; personal improvement as in yell less, manage anger; or set a goal like join a gym, or perhaps volunteer.
While it can be cliché to only think about these things at the end of the year even though we think about them often throughout the year, the new year provides an opportunity for a fresh start. It allows us to close the door on our past year’s challenges, pain, and joy, and look ahead with a clean slate with endless possibilities.
I have had the privilege to sit with people daily and bear witness to their journey, aspirations, and dreams. I realize that as humans, there is one thing that keeps people from not only meeting and sustaining their New Years resolutions but also keeps them from experiencing joy and living to their potential. This one thing is shame.
Everyone experiences shame. Whether we are punished and humiliated by a parent, sibling, or family member; experienced abuse or mistreatment; publically humiliated by a teacher; bullied by a classmate; laughed at for our appearance or awkwardness; failed at something that was important to us; or abandoned by a friend or family member, we have felt shame.
Shame is that painful feeling caused by the consciousness or exposure of unworthy or indecent conduct or circumstances (https://www.thefreedictionary.com/shame), or a feeling of guilt, regret, or sadness that you have because you know you have done something wrong. (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/shame).
The essential point is that shame doesn’t feel good and can permeate our being. It keeps us from believing in ourselves as we hide from both internal negative feelings of guilt and regret, and from being “found out” by others for whom we really are. It is like an invisible scar that never leaves. It often comes in the form of negative soft internal voices or thoughts that we are not good enough, don’t deserve success and happiness, and are “less than” others. We take this unwanted companion with us to work, on vacations, and to all our relationships including our friends, significant others, and our children.
We want to forget those painful and embarrassing experiences. We want them to just go away and pretend they don’t affect us anymore. Unfortunately, that hope and strategy doesn’t work so well. We still can lack confidence, doubt ourselves, fear taking a risk and failing. We can believe that others are more qualified, more worthy, and more lovable than we are. I have news for you. It’s not true. You are just as good, just as lovable, just as worthy, and have every right and opportunity to experience joy and happiness in your life and pursue your dreams. While shame is the one thing that is likely keeping you from fully living the life you want, there is one thing that can help you move beyond your shame. That one thing is accepting yourself for who you are and realizing that you are enough.
I know it sounds too simple, but it’s true. You can choose, right now to accept and love yourself. By love, I mean care and appreciate yourself with your quirks, flaws, and uniqueness. Accept who you are and acknowledge your strengths and goodness.
Forgive yourself for past mistakes and realize that they do not define you. If you were humiliated, put down, and embarrassed as a child, those experiences don’t define who you are. If you were mistreated or abused, tell yourself that you did not deserve it and that you are worthy and loved.
You can choose to let shame go. You don’t need it anymore. You can choose to tell yourself daily that you are worthy and lovable. Do it for yourself. Do it for your children.
I challenge you to let shame go in 2018 and live your life fully. I challenge you to be open to life’s possibilities and believe you deserve happiness. You are just fine the way you are. You don’t have to change, but you must accept yourself and see where this acceptance will take you.
Wishing you the best in the New Year.