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How to Release Shame and Love All of You

Heart with Hands

“When there is no enemy within, the enemies outside cannot hurt you.” ~African Proverb

If you’ve had any experiences where you had to keep your truth quiet, particularly as a child, it’s time to reclaim your truth and value its power. By doing so, you will release energy, old shame, and subconscious blocks that may now be holding you back from living your life to the fullest.

It could be that you had lots of family secrets that your parents made sure you told no one about (which creates shame), or it could be you were bullied and felt unable to confide in anyone about it.

There are many circumstances where we have our truth kept locked in, and unintentionally we create shame around our truths. If you feel unable to speak your truth, then you feel shame. It’s nature’s law.

When we become shameful of our truths, we end up cutting off, discrediting, and devaluing a hugely important chunk of who we are and how we show up in the world.

This is true for me. When I was growing up, my parents had an emotionally abusive relationship, and I was sworn to secrecy about it. My parents wanted no one outside of the house to know what was going on.

While my father had anger issues, my mother always tried to keep the peace, so I decided it was better to not speak up or voice my feelings. Living under the same roof as them, it was impossible for me to not be affected by what was happening, yet I was unable to have my experience validated.

My parents were busy fighting, being in tension, or creating drama, and I was conditioned to not talk to anyone about “the troubles at home.” So my truth was shut down, kept only to me and my journal.

After my parents divorced, I moved out and on to college, and started my adult life. I felt proud of myself for staying strong through all the tough times at home, for being an emotional rock for my mother, and for forgiving my father for not being the kind of dad I wanted him to be.

Yet in my mid-late twenties, things started to shift. After a few career U-turns, I started to feel unsure of myself, and it started to bring up emotions I hadn’t felt for a long while.

For a long time, I’d considered myself to be strong, independent, and able to make decisions easily, and I was, overall, really confident. During my job changes, I felt unsure, doubtful, confused, and shameful.

Curious, I wanted to know where this shame came from. When in my life previously had I felt shame strongly? It led me back to when I was unable to truly have presence as “me” growing up—I was the girl who could only be a silent participant in an unhealthy household.

When I was told to not talk to anyone about what was going on, it was as if being told that my truth, perspective, and feelings were shameful.

At first I felt angry toward my parents, and any adults who may have known what had been going on but hadn’t shown concern towards my experience of the situation. But then, like a scientist, I detached and focused on how to release the shame.

I could see that some part of me must still be carrying shame toward speaking my truth, and the only way to release it was to share my truth.

So I told my story to a trusted friend (who is also a counselor). I made no omissions and quickly started to feel better. No one outside my family had known about what was going on, or what I’d experienced and seen. By telling someone outside of the family, I felt a shift—as if a spell was being broken.

Telling my truth did not make the sky fall down. It did not make me feel shameful. And it helped me see that while I’d been nurturing the brave, confident, no-BS side of me, there was a neglected side of me that needed to be seen—lonely, frustrated, confused, ignored.

Those “negative” aspects of ourselves are often the emotions we try to avoid, but as I began to validate them (“of course you felt isolated Sarah; the adults in your life were cutting you off from expressing yourself”), it helped me feel more compassion toward myself.

Feeling proud of yourself for your good qualities is one thing; being able to embrace yourself when you feel anger, resentment, or jealousy is another. And I learned that I have a “right” to feel all things.

Just as it’s okay to be excited, happy, and content, it’s also okay to feel sad, nervous, and bored.

Especially if you had an incident as a youngster where your “negative emotions” weren’t given space to be expressed, it’s important to be able to validate them now as an adult.

A lot of self-love work is about uncovering that hidden part of yourself and giving it light, room to breathe, capacity to exist. When we deny any part of ourselves we are not allowing ourselves to be truly who we are.

That’s not to say we should broadcast all our vulnerabilities on Twitter or go share with people who we know are incapable of honoring our truth. It could mean seeing a counselor or airing it to a non-judgmental support network.

When we realize we were “made” to keep our truths hidden by our environment or others, the first natural step is to feel angry, especially if this pattern of having to keep quiet took place as a kid or teen. Why didn’t the adults in our lives do the right thing and give us space to be heard?

Normally it had to do with their fears, insecurities, shames, and inability to face the truths for themselves. The important thing is to accept that they were unable to have done anything differently—to have provided you with what you needed.

Whatever you feel you needed from them (validation, support, safety to speak truth), accept and make peace with the fact you will never get these things from them. You can’t re-write history, and it may be likely that they are still, now, incapable of giving these things to you.

What we can do today, right now, is begin to release the habit of self-repression that we may have inherited from the past.

How do we do that?

Start to shine light and love on your truth, whether that’s turning your attention to your true passions that may have been ignored or taking baby steps to speak up on what doesn’t work for you.

Often we swallow our own opinions or needs in order to “keep the peace.” It’s time to take very small steps to rock the boat!

If you are subconsciously holding out for someone else to finally “See you” or love the real you, drop in with yourself and ask:

“Do I see the “real” me? Am I allowing my true self to be voiced, to be seen, to take up space?”

Do you have spaces in your life where you can “drop your guard” and be authentic?

I’ve found that having my truths validated is hugely important, and the following simple exercise is a good place to help you start:

Visualize a kind, benevolent being (which could be a trusted friend or person you know or your preferred idea of the universe/higher power/spirit) is with you and is saying this to you:

“I love that you love…”

And then allow yourself to list all the things you love! Write it down as a list.

I love that you love making art. I love that you love dancing. I love that you love to have fun.

This always leaves me feeling re-affirmed and self-secure. It never fails to make me feel happy to be me. And it allows me to feel loved for who I truly am, not for what I do for others.

If you have repressed anger or frustration/resentment (which is likely when we repress part of ourselves), find ways to healthily express it (for example a martial arts class).

I hope this helps you with your journey to truly valuing who you are at your core. Send love and validation to the aspects of yourself that perhaps your peers, family, and colleagues didn’t or don’t “get.” You have to expand to be all of yourself.

Photo by BrianDoaneiPhotography

Avatar of Sarah Louise Byrne

About Sarah Louise Byrne

Sarah Louise Byrne is a women‘s empowerment writer who blogs at www.sarah-queen.com. She is also the Content Editor for Careershifters.org. You can follow Sarah on Twitter as QueenSarah.   

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  • Jenny

    That is exactly what I am experiencing, out of slightly different reasons though. But still: Thanks a lot for this post, I totally understand this! Also, I really like the little, but probably really helpful technique! I am definitely going to do this!
    I guess we are both on a good way! ;) And it is a great feeling to allow yourself being yourself, isn’t it? I haven’t been happier before in my entire life now that I am starting to see and accept myself and my emotions.

    Good luck for your journey to yourself!

  • http://optimalternative.com/ Mark B Hoover

    “While my father had anger issues, my mother always tried to keep the peace, so I decided it was better to not speak up or voice my feelings.”

    I labored under the same going into my teens. Tried to bury myself in school; became a class clown honors student. While I gained approval from the maternal side of my family, it appeared that each accomplishment was met with negativity on my father’s part…primarily due to his temperament. I believe that was at the seat of my sabotaging many ventures. I could succeed, but what was the outcome to be? Would I pay a price for it? Get a thrashing?

    I had already set a pattern into my later years. I feel that once we recognize a reason for our doing or undoing, we are responsible for breaking that cycle. Yet I still am unsure of how deeply seated these obstacles are. Knowing is not necessarily doing. Comments like “If you’re happy, I’m happy,” “You’re just like your father,” and “Your brother’s the good one; you’re the smart one” as well as my father’s disdain for education voiced to my mother as “You’re trying to make a snob out of him!” rang deeply and hurtfully.

    I’m still trying to “Drop my guard.” Life and circumstance are finally coming to grips with the me that I want to be. I believe I have played them out, draining the emotional vampires of their bloodlust. I have to have faith in that. Or the echoes of angst upon my innocence will continue to prey upon me.

    Thank you, Sarah, for shining a light upon both our paths on this journey.

    ~ Mark

  • Anne Z

    Wow. I totally needed that today. I had a life very similar to yours while growing up. Then we moved from an eastern culture country to Canada and things took a turn for the worse. I was so ashamed for having the parents and family that I had that I often fantasized of (and took actions towards) killing myself. I felt like I didn’t belong, not to even myself as a child and sometimes these feeling still crawl back up. started to open up a little bit. Met someone and totally fell in love because he taught me to live, laugh and be open. Now I feel that I belong and there is a place for me in this world and universe. I went through a fair amount of counselling but I still feel I can’t tell all my truths because I should be ashamed of what has happened to me. 

    I thought opening up and talking about what I have, along with women in my family, gone through would be good idea with at least my new family that I want to belong with but I experienced something that I wish that nobody else ever has to go through. So when I tried to open up with my brother and sister in law about some of the things, they actually took no interest of siting down and knowing me as a person and where I came from but also formed judgements from one or two sentences that I said about not being close with my parents or sister. They used those judgements as forms of justifications to isolate me or so I feel. It was heart breaking because all this time I was trying so hard to be family to them or for them to make space for me. It was so disheartening. I am just graduating from university and I was already feeling a bit shaken up and scared of the transition and when I need the most amount of emotional support I found no support from their side. All I got was judgements and hate and more isolation along with blame that because I am not close with my family, I am unable to keep relationships. Shattered me to tears. 

     Having said that, opening up is great. I have achieved so much growth by telling my stories and talking about my emotions with my fiancé but you have to be careful about who you trust and who you can tell your story. I recently compared my current self to myself 5 years ago and I can say I am so proud of myself and I have come a long way and there is so much more growth needed.

    Thank you for your post and letting me tell some of my truth and frustrations that I am dealing with internally and I am not ashamed to be authentic about them at all.

  • Dreamer

    couldn’t help crying…..gone through the same phase…where i felt unloved by my own parents….felt responsible for their fights…. a quiet spectator of violence and physical abuse at a tender age,  made me a reserved person, low in confidence and having self esteem issues….. ashamed of what my parents were doing to each other, ashamed of myself and everything about me.. but as time moved on i felt more and more suffocated until i started to ask questions to myself, deep questions which i had buried, finally came out in the open…… which led me to uncover myself from the hard shell that i was in, fooling myself that i am strong…… in the process i eventually found myself,  its a painful process, of really trying to understand who you are, what i love to do, what my dreams are but without which you will never be able to see the beautiful side to life. I still am in the process of melting out all the bitterness and shame inside me but its worth it when you see your own self shine through and love yourself of who you really are and spread it all around.

  • Otterspace2001

    Boy I love it when I am going thru uncomfortable frightening emotions and support in one form or another shows up at just the “right time”. Telling the truth about just how deeply i hurt requires my willingness to go below the words that describe (I am so lonely) to a deep deep place at my core where a lifetime of longing for intimacy, safety and affection has left a gaping hole in my soul. The truth for me isn’t about telling it (which I may have done many many times) but “feeling” it. Typically a huge wave of sadness wells up and washes over me and I cry a while (sob). This is the compassion I am allowing myself to feel for myself. It is the self embracing healing energy that I need to resolve this particular block in my life. And then, I happen to read a piece that someone I don’t even know, has written exactly about what I’m going thru. It’s a nice validation; one I need and am grateful for. Nuff said-Thanks Sarah

  • Sasalool

    The timing of this post is amazing, actually just today I wrote this sentece in my journal ” i want to know myself better, I want to shine the light on the person inside who had been quite for so
    Long, and who is a really great person”
    Me too have secrets of my own and in my family that I’m not supposed to talk about, I didn’t think that these secrets will haunt me even when I’m a grown up, although these secrets don’t include me personally but still they had their effect n my life.
    I stopped blaming others for them because what happened happened and you ca’t change that, you can only realise that the silent person inside is ready to show himself , and what a beautiful person he is

    Thank you for your post

  • Hinabawa

    This is an eye opener and reads as if the pages were taken from Diary and Journal.It may not be a good thing to feel as we do, but it is comforting to know that others have also been on the same journey as myself.I am now trying hard to see myself as I am with my weaknesses and imperfections,but I can be happier if I could learn to Voice my self without having any fear of anything and anyone. Very good read Dear Sarah.Thankyou for sharing.May we all get the strength to  stand Tall and get over our shame, if indeed that was shame.The insecurities of life sometimes chain us to the invisible chains,but we have started on the Right path, when we can break these invisible chains.

  • Sab82

     I completely get that Mark – the fear of success leading to a reprimand or abandonment. One of the most helpful things that worked for me in letting go of a lot of self-worth issues re my father was this: His reactions (rebuking or belittling your successes) were not about you – it was all about your fathers low self-esteem. He probably feared that he was inadequate in some way, and your light was threatening to him. That doesn’t mean his reactions were ‘right’, but he was responding purely on fear. When you believe in your inner light (talents, worth, whatever you want to call it!), you have to hold strong to that belief even when it triggers fear-based reactions from others – to know that you are not responsible or to blame for how they are reacting to your light – that their issues are THEIR issues! Also let go of any expectation that your father could have (or would ever) behave differently – he was fighting his own personal self-esteem battle and projecting it onto you.

    I wrote a post about this recently which you might find helpful – http://liferockstar.wordpress.com/2012/05/30/its-not-about-you-so-dump-the-issues/

    Send them compassion then get to stoking your own light! Best wishes on your journey – Sarah x

  • Sab82

    That’s awesome, it takes guts to open up. Sometimes the people we *wish* we could talk to without judgement (family, friends) aren’t the right ones! Counselling is helpful, as are some 12 step groups and/or spiritual groups. And online communities too! I’d also say that, for me at least, finding the lessons from my story and using them to help others is a good way to heal. So if you feel able to, find the lessons in what happened to you (maybe you learnt that you are not a reflection of your parents and you don’t have to own their shame?!) and share these lessons with others who need to learn from your experience! That way you can speak you truth whilst helping others too :) – Sarah

  • Sab82

    Wow, I feel ya! Being a spectator sucks, and as kids all we can do is internalise a lot of what we see happening. When your parents are pre-occupied with their own issues, it often means we are not parented around emotional health and boundaries – we don’t know what are our issues or responsibilities, and what are theirs. We end up soaking up their shame, as well as shutting down to protect ourselves. I recommend a great book called Boundaries http://www.amazon.com/Boundaries-When-Take-Control-Your/dp/0310247454 It’s helped me immensely in understanding what went on with my parents and how/why i took on their pain as my own. And most importantly you’ll discover that as an adult, people can only hurt you if you let them ;) If you trust yourself, see people as they really are rather than who you want them to be, then you’ll feel safer being who you really are in the world  – Sarah x

  • Sab82

    Glad it helped! Loving and validating your needs is the most humane thing you can do for yourself. Whomever put the original ‘wound’ in you (maybe a parent who didn’t give you the attention you deserved) most likely lacked self-love or self-esteem, and was unable to give you what they didn’t have! Or they were scared that they would be a bad parent (and so, inevitably, become a bad parent) – it was not about you. When we know that truth, it also means you can release needing that person’s love, and just bask in being your fabulous self!  – Sarah x

  • http://optimalternative.com/ Mark B Hoover

    Thank you for this, Sarah. I am completely aware of the consequences of his actions, even of my mother’s actions. I believe what I am trying to say here is that knowing all this, having identified it time and time again, I think there are vestigial implications that beset me still. It’s almost in the “cellular memory” category. Such that, knowing as much as I now know, will I ever be completely free?

    Put simply: if you lose a finger, all the affirmations in the world will not replace that finger. You will adapt. Yet there are “phantom feelings” that at times convince you that finger is still there.

    ~ Mark

  • Sab82

    “get over our shame, if indeed that was shame” – right! Often we take on the shame of others and we need to hand it back. As kids we are often third party observers, we don’t know how to handle the situations we find ourselves in (unless guided by healthy adults), so any shame generated comes from the adults – which we then take on as our own.
    At least as adults we get to flex our emotional muscles and be able to say ‘no’ to taking on other’s negative projections. Understanding how people project their insecurities onto others, and being able to create our own emotional boundaries will clear those invisible chains! – Sarah x

  • Marie

    As with the others, this came at the exact time in my life that I have been working on trying to rid myself of internalized shame issues.  Unfortunately this is also at the same time in my life that I have been unemployed for 18 months!  It deepens the feeling that I am “wrong” or “bad” and makes me very doubtful about my abilities.  Whenever a challenge arises like applying for a job or worrying about money, the fear is so great it is paralyzing.

    However, my parents are different now, very loving and caring and not the detached and strict ones of my childhood that set into motion these feelings.  I can’t seem to feel anger and thus release it since I am so close to them.  Any thoughts?

    Your articles and others like it in Tiny Buddha have been a beacon of hope and strength for me, please keep them coming.  This is another one I am going to print out and read over and over again!

  • Me

    I can totally relate to this article. Thanks for being brave and articulating your thoughts!

  • Kathleen

    I have always hid  part of who I was/am and its so painful and to open up is scary but to open up is to love all of me not just parts. To become a total person like I was meant to be and honor that.Kathleen

  • Lorettahendricks

    that was a beautiful article it reminded me of my childhood and all my problems, reading things like this makes me stronger .i really need to learn to love myself but i know my god is with me and he’ll never ever leave me he keeps telling me this over and over again,have you tried meditation it really helps you connect to god.god blessyou and hope you find all the happiness and peace you need    loretta

  • Guest

    Thanks for sharing! I have recently chosen to seek help in overcoming issues of depression and anxiety that have stemmed from my own childhood injuries that are quite similar to the ones you described.  I also am coincidentally starting to read the book on boundaries you mentioned in a previous comment and hoping and praying that with help and time, and the support of safe people, I can and will come to know who I am and accept all of it, good and “bad.”  One thing I am trying to figure out, and perhaps you would have a good piece of advice- how can I shed light on my truth when I’ve become so effective in blocking it out that my past is starting to become one big blur?  How can I sit in my feelings about what happened and share them when I am detached from my real self and my past?  Thanks again for sharing, providing validation, healthy ideas to overcome, and encouragement. 

  • Awakening

    I have been reading your blogs for some times and I wanted to leave my first comment here since this particular writing resonates with my current pains I am going through. I am a man in mid-30′s. I came from a culture which emphasizes the false belief that manliness and being in touch with your feelings do not go together. I’ve been raised by an over-controlling father and grew up in a climate of being powerless and helpless by his power. My emotional expressions were always met by shame and physical threats. He always told me Anger is only for lowly inferior man. Then my mother passed away when i was 12. Of course, being emotionally incompetent as he is there was no such a thing as grieving in my family. I only recently discovered that all my feelings are normal; being angry and needy in a childish way. I do not know how to feel and express my emotions in an adult way because I was never taught and trained how to. Recently, I lost my job and had a time to sit down and talk to my father. As usual, he began blaming everything on me, how weak and incompetent I am. And my mother’s death came up. I expressed how I was in pain and needed his support when she died. Then, he called me a “Soft and tender man. Shameful” I felt so shame that i wanted to hide. That’s when I started researching about my feelings. I discovered that being scared as a man is normal. I also found out that feeling clinging and emotionally needy to my mother was absolutely normal thing as a child. Feeling irritated and angry when my father annoys me is also normal. What my father told me is an absolute lie; that a normal man perfectly does not feel any negative emotion.

    I still have a long way to go. I still don’t know how to express and feel my emotions like an adult. Hell, I don’t even know how it feels like to be an adult! I feel like a child every time I feel angry. And I still feel shame about it. But at least I know now that my feelings are normal. The lie we have been told all our lives is so strong that it blinds us from the truth all our lives. Some people might never wake up. But not me.

  • Annon

    Thank you :)

  • David

    Check out CODE TO JOY By Dr George Pratt. It’s a book that has a self hypnosis technique that allows you to Send Thoughts Away. So put Shame in your “Healing Basket” and send it away

    Love this article though, and the affirmations you have provided. Thanks

  • Kozzie-Butt

    This was a good article.
    I grew up with burn scars and was often bullied and ostracized and even when I am somewhat happy, there is a sense of being completely discardable, annoying or even disgusting at times.
    I find that when the shame is there as an emotion it is not as bad as when it is below the surface of resistance. It’s this dull sense of dis-ease that is trapped under ice, and I’m at the surface wondering why I can’t be happy.

  • John

    I Just keep on trying to use my heart more than my brian and it works this is life babe <3 :)

  • Norah

    I’ve been searching for a long time…and now, I find this words. Now I guess I can pot my feelings somewhere, make sense…

  • zpargo87

    Thanks for the post. Though I’m finding it difficult to eliminate this shame even having tried almost everything. Will it always be a part of me? About 8 years of childhood bullying about my appearance means that I find it extremely difficult to feel fully secure about myself. So being in a relationship I feel really uncomfortable even if that partner loves me. Until I eliminate the shame I practically can’t have a relationship which is a basic need for a human being.