Most people have experienced shame as part of their upbringing in some way or another. It’s a commonly used tool to control children or fit adults into societal standards. The enduring emotional suffering from this practice however can be significant. So how can you overcome shame? You must become a ruthless de-shamifyer in your daily life and as a coach, in your daily practice. We show you how.
Step 1: Know that Shame Is Part of Socialization
The act of shaming is often used to try to get people to behave the way society expects them to. You can also see children being shamed out of certain behaviors in many different contexts. To become aware of this pervasive practice is the first step. But immediately after that, the question becomes: how can I stop this behavior?
The change starts with YOU and the way you communicate as a parent. For example, avoid saying, “You are a really messy kid. Didn’t anyone ever teach you how to clean up after yourself?” Instead, try using this gentler and more supportive approach: “When you make a mess, it’s great to clean up after yourself. Let’s do it together! I’ll show you how.”
Or if your child asks for yet another toy in the store – refrain from saying “Stop being so selfish! You have enough toys. You should be grateful for what you have.” Instead, you could simply say: “I’m not going to buy you another toy right now.”
And – while the discovery of your child masturbating might be momentarily unsettling, abstain from telling them that it is bad, unhealthy, or a sin against God. You can de-shamify this natural act by telling them it is a wonderful way to have pleasure, and that they can enjoy it in private.
Step 2: Learn to Recognize Shame in Yourself and Others
People show up in our practices all the time, having been shamed. Most frequently, they’re being shamed about their bodies, their sexuality, their attachment styles, their needs, feelings, capacity, or boundaries. How can you help them overcome shame? By recognizing the issue first.
Notice When People Shame Themselves:
This is how people shame themselves:
- I can’t believe how foolish I was to trust them. I should have known better.
- I’m so pathetic. I fall in love way too easily.
- I’m so fat. No one will want to have sex with me.
Notice When People Shame Each Other:
When a person in a relationship doesn’t like something their partner is doing because it makes them feel uncomfortable or scared, they often don’t share their discomfort or fears. Instead, they may try shaming their partner into stopping. These acts of shaming can either be very subtle – or very overt. Usually, shame has an underlying message for the person: it insinuates they are damaged, bad or evil, or that no one will ever love them. You’d perhaps hear shaming like this:
- You are such a drama queen. Do you have to cry every time we have a serious conversation?
- What kind of person sleeps in until noon?
- I can’t believe you have been watching porn. It is so degrading and objectifying.
- Open relationships don’t work – so good luck with wanting to be poly.
Step 3: Realize That Shame Doesn’t Lead to Change
Some people believe that shaming themselves and each other will lead to positive growth and change, what it generally leads to is shut down or going into hiding about what you really want, an inability to work on things because you don’t want to face them and feel bad about yourself (distancing), addictive spirals.
Shame will get in the way of a person being able to embrace who they are and what they want. In order to really help people feel safe enough to take the risks of opening to intimacy, or sharing needs or feelings or going after what they really want sexually or really any of the tools of intimacy, it is essential to lower shame.
Step 4: Overcome Shame with Somatica
The best way to help someone overcome shame is by exposing them to a loving, supportive person they can stay connected to.
In the Somatica Method, we help conquer shame through attachment, joining, celebration and normalizing protective mechanisms. Here are the tools for you to overcome shame – and help others do the same.
1) Seek and Bring Unconditional Love and Secure Attachment
Seek out people who make you feel like you won’t be left, shamed, judged or punished for anything you share with them. In return, you can help someone else by assuring them that you accept them fully and that you are not going anywhere.
2) Through Joining
Joining means realizing that many others do or say the same things you feel shameful about.
For example, someone might tell you, “Sometimes I can be so mean and vindictive with my partner. I just want to hurt them.” You can respond by saying, “I know! I totally want to take revenge too sometimes. And I also fantasize about terrible things happening to my partner.” Now, the person doesn’t feel alone anymore in their vengeful thoughts.
This generally lowers shame considerably – both for you and them. You no longer need to feel like you will be expelled from society, just for thinking something that others think all the time too. It’s completely human to have those thoughts and feelings. Many people have them.
3) Shake Your Fist at this Lousy Culture
Try this satisfying exercise: verbalize and literally shake your fist at a society that makes us feel like we have to be perfect and do everything right.
4) Normalize Protective Mechanisms
If you’ve been through some kind of therapy or personal growth work, you may be aware of the things you do to block intimacy. These can be different kinds of self-sabotage, or negative habits around intimacy. Examples of this kind of self-shaming are:
- I can’t say anything right when someone is upset with me
- I’m so co-dependent
- I’m so scared of being left – I break up with people instead of asking for what I need
- I don’t know why I need so much space
The way to lower shame about these things is to realize that adopting that behavior helped you survive (physically or emotionally) the painful challenges of your childhood.
For example, if you dissociate or fight when scared, you can celebrate these reactions as survival tools. You can say to yourself, “I’m happy I learned how to do that. Otherwise, I would have never made it through childhood. I had no other choice and I will probably still sometimes do it automatically.” The question is not how can you never do that again – but rather how can you do something different after initial impulse.
Some things people feel shameful about – like their “dirty” sexual fantasies – are actually really hot and sexy.
When you celebrate those fantasies instead of shaming them, you might suddenly feel like there is truly nothing wrong with you. You just have desires like everyone else, and these have been shaped by your life experiences (we go into this deeply in the 3rd module of the Somatica Training). These Core Desires are unlikely to change much, so incorporating them into your sex life in a safe and consensual manner will make that part of your life way hotter.