Change Your Life by Turning Shame into Courage

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.” ~Nelson Mandela

Shame. A word that conjures up all kinds of emotions while equally keeping you silent.

Some have even said that shame should be classified as a deadly disease because of how it deeply affects the soul.

Then, there are researchers like Brené Brown who study it.

It wasn't until I started working with my first speaking coach that I realized it was actually shame that had kept me “hiding out” and playing small earlier in life.  

Which is typical of women who have experienced shame. Isolation becomes your friend.

I had met my coach at a networking event for women in business. She was warm and caring. I shared that it was overcoming the loss of my son to suicide that actually brought me to coaching.

I told her of my goals of sharing my message through public speaking and advocacy to bring awareness, not only to suicide prevention, but also issues affecting women.

Except, like most people, I had always had a fear of public speaking. Even to get up and say my name used to make my palms sweaty.

So why did the thought of standing up in front of the room and speaking bring on major heart palpitations? After all, I love meeting new people, chatting it up, hearing their stories and learning about their lives. There had to be more to the story!

During our first session, I told her that I thought most of my fears were from a childhood trauma I had experienced. After hearing my story, she said, “You have an element of shame that surrounds your life. You have a fear of judgment.”

I was worried what people would think of me that didn't even know me, or anything about me.

It finally made sense to me.

It all stemmed from being sexually abused as a young kid. The humiliation, embarrassment, and fear of anyone finding out was still affecting my life.

Only now, I knew how important it was to share my story, because it could change a life or save a life.

My life mission was now bigger than my fear.

On my journey to healing, I read many books. Books on losing a loved one, books on overcoming trauma, books on healing your life, and books on getting healthy.

I watched Oprah and listened to her inspiring guests.

One day, something clicked.

Everything that I had either read or listened to that inspired me to take action and move out of my darkness involved one thing: stories!

It was not the technical stuff or the how-to overcome (fill in the blank). It was the stories being shared that I could relate to that helped me change my life.

It was the people who were not afraid to share. They did not let any shame, stigma, or fear stop them because they knew their story might help someone.

When you go through a trauma or loss, you can easily feel isolated, like you are the only one. But when you are courageous enough to share your story, you soon find out that you are not alone.

There are people out there in dire need of someone to talk to, that they can relate to, that will understand them.

Sharing your story empowers others who are feeling isolated to begin their own journey of healing and move forward, to create their own movement, big or small.

It's like a snowball effect. You inspire one person, who inspires another person, who inspires another.

When you are finally courageous enough to share your story, it is a process. Shame will no longer leave you feeling small and powerless.

You will feel the need to get out there, share your story, and make a difference in the world.

Now, when I feel fear creeping in, I remind myself that it is not about me; it is about the person who is going to hear my story, feel inspired to change their own life, and create their own movement of change, one small step at a time.

Photo by Jonatas Cunha

About Julie Barnes

Julie Barnes is a women's empowerment coach and mentor, founder of and the creator of programs like Finding Your Phoenix. Julie is passionate about  helping women find their purpose after overcoming heartbreak and loss.  Follow Julie on Twitter at @claimyourshine.

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  • Justine Andi

    Thank you for this Julia. Great to know you’ve turned that shame into courage. I’ve also seen Brené Brown’s video about shame and it struck me that it’s the root of all the negative things I’m feeling about myself and I’m convinced and thankful I became aware. I had childhood traumas as well on living with different step fathers. When I was in highschool I often tell my story and speak to my friends. But after I graduated college and undergoing a very difficult time in my life, I grew distant and won’t speak about my problems anymore. The incident left me feeling small and less than the person I used to be. And the longer time goes, I can’t contain the anger anymore. I went from relationship to relationship and every hurt I suffer, I thought I deserved it. May not be ready now to tell my full story but will add your post as a source to my growing encouragement. Pls continue to tell your story and I agree that through this, you can change/save a life. All the best.

  • Darlene

    Hi Julie..

    “Fear of judgement” …ahhhh, that’s a biggie. I suppose we all have that on some level. What a powerful story. Thank you for sharing.

    darlene 🙂

    p.s. Your “Fear Buster” session looks interesting.

  • Julie Barnes

    You’re welcome Justine and thank you for your encouragement! I will continue to share my story.

    Thank you for sharing your story as well and I’m sorry for the traumas you’ve experienced and how they affected your life.

    I recommend reading Brené Brown’s book “I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn’t): Making the Journey from “What Will People Think?” to “I Am Enough”. I found it very helpful on my journey and I think you will too.

    Wishing you all the best too!
    Julie 🙂

  • Julie Barnes

    Hi Darlene!

    I agree! I think we all do. You’re welcome and thank you for your kind words.

    Julie 🙂

  • Thank you so much for sharing your story with us. I think shame has a bigger role in our lives than most of us care to admit. Overcoming it my talking about it is so important – until we share our own story – we can’t possibly know how much it might positively affect other people. Shame holds us back – but sharing gives us a power that knows no bounds,

  • Julie Barnes

    You’re welcome Aimee! And is true… “sharing gives us a power that knows no bounds”. Thank you so much for your comment and enjoy your weekend! 🙂

  • lv2terp

    Truly inspiring post, thank you for sharing your experience, and epiphany! 🙂

  • Sarai Pahla

    Thanks for sharing this incredible story, Julie! You’re so brave for sharing and I know this will help you in the healing process. I wish you only the best and hope you keep working towards having more happiness in your life. Be well.

  • Artee

    This post really touched my heart. And I feel so much for all women who have to overcome shame and judgement, to get to where we are today. God bless you and may you have much happiness in life. Thank you for sharing, your post really made me think about my life at the moment and how I can make a positive impact instead of hiding in the shadows.

  • Jason Holborn

    Shame and fearing judgment are universal human experiences; “women” and “men” are constructs, and there are no others, there is only us.