As we move out of the shadows of shame, let’s remind ourselves of what shame is through this acronym.
S = Self
H = Hatred
A = And
M = Malignant
Read it again ~ Self Hatred And Malignant Embarrassment
It’s a heavy emotion. It’s dark and debilitating. And, left unattended, it smothers one’s body, mind and spirit. How then, do we begin to re-emerge from shame? As we start, read and ponder this healing acronym.
S = Shared
H = Healing
A = And
M = Mindful
E = Existence
Say it again, slowly: Shared Healing And Mindful Existence.
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Three Healing Rays Of Reemergence
What do I mean by shared healing? I mean that we must take shame out of its shadows and bring it out into the light. We must share our shame with trusted individuals and allow healing to fill its place. However, it does not mean that we must announce it to the world. It means that we honor and respect our voices by thoughtfully sharing our shame with those who can safely hold it and validate it. And then after releasing our self-hatred and malignant embarrassment, we move onto mindful existence. This means we begin living our lives with purpose and direction – mindful of what is healthy for us and honoring our truths in the process.
Although the journey of re-emergence is unique to the three types of betrayal and their ensuing manifestations, I want to give you three recovering principles (rays of healing) that I believe are paramount in re-emerging from the shroud of silence, secrecy, and stigma that
Healing Ray One – Sharing Your Truth
It is key to remember that shame lives in silence. It survives and thrives there. Although it is excruciatingly painful to disclose a betrayal by someone (especially if it is a very intimate and personal betrayal), or to admit to a betrayal of someone or to a betrayal of self, the first step in healing is to share your truth with a trusted individual. This may be your spouse, partner, best friend, person of faith, or mentor. Or this may need to be shared with a professional counselor or therapist. Often, it takes the tender skills of a professional to access the root of the shame, and thus, monitor the individual in the process.
As I think back to so many of my brave clients and their stories of betrayal–an extraordinary professional adult male fired abruptly during the recession, a long time recovering female addict falling back into a dark period of relapse, a gentle mom of two adorable toddlers coming to terms with the childhood sexual abuse by her brother–all of them cried, their faces cringed, and their bodies crumpled up as they mouthed the words, “I feel so much shame.” And then, as their truths slowly surfaced, they shared them.
In the safety of the setting, the suffocation ceased as the accompanying emotions of guilt, blame, and self-doubt were also released. Taking in new breaths, these clients began their process of re-emergence.
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Healing Ray Two – Validating Your Voice
Because of shame’s insidious self-deprecating nature, feelings of confusion, worthlessness and powerlessness are quick to smother out seeds of re-emergence. In order for healing to grow, it is critical that your truths be validated – by you and by trusted individuals.
This can take form in many ways:
- Journal your truths each day. Read over them, again and again.
- Write down your narratives. And then, read over them, giving yourself time to process and to affirm what is true for you.
- Surround yourselves with healthy routines and environments that support and validate you and your truths.
- Turn to a trusted small circle of confidence: a friend, a support group, or place of worship. Soak in their words of encouragement and affirmation
- Continue to work with a therapist, counsellor, or other wellness individuals, practices, or programs.
Many years ago, I worked with a fragile and broken young adult female who lived under a mountain of shame for most of her life. Her alcoholic father molested her as a toddler and her babysitter did the same as she got older. As a teen, she discovered her father had a secret life with a second family as well as a criminal record. And when she came in to see me, her beloved husband has just discovered her secretive promiscuous life. Although the work was arduous, painful, and lengthy, this young woman began to peel away the layers of shame. As she uncovered her truths and spoke them, she began to write them down. She wrote and she wrote. Pages and pages were filled with her anguish. She wept , she screamed, she grieved.
And as she read her truths over and over again, to herself and to me, she began to breathe. As she validated her voice, she re-emerged from the mountain of shame… and started to believe in herself and her truths for the first time.
Healing Ray Three–Living Out Your Truths
Once we have voiced our narratives of shame to ourselves and with selective others, and as we continue to validate our voices to ourselves and with trusted others, we must then act upon our new-found but vulnerable healing place. This is hard work and it is a continual process.
However, it is what prevents shame from its resurgence! Each and every day that we live in wellness, work a program or process of recovery, live out our beliefs and stay true to our foundations, embrace the practices that sustain and support us–we live a shame-free existence; we live a more mindful one.
Each day that we live honestly and authentically with our truths, we continue to re-emerge and….we smother out the smouldering ashes of shame.
A number of years ago, I had the pleasure of working with a phenomenal man. He was in his mid-sixties and a highly successful businessman, looking forward to retirement. A 25 plus year recovering alcoholic and addict, he was worried about relapsing. During his intake, I discovered a multitude of betrayals in his life–from others, of others, and of himself. In fact, his story could have been something from an episode of The Sopranos! However, what he had accomplished and how he had lived his life during his years of recovering was extraordinary– helping others, giving back, funding programs, making restitution for his wrongs, and building a strong family unit. As the weeks went by and we continued to work together, I sensed a fissure in his soul. It was a buried beneath layers of silence and secrecy. Tenderly and slowly, he began to dig deep and uncover a shame from long ago–years of childhood molestation by an older female. It was a wound never before cauterized, cleaned, and cared for.
During our time together, as he shared his suffering and validated his voice, a vibrant man re-emerged–working his program of recovering, staving off relapse, and living out his truths.
As we close, I am well aware that there is much more to say about shame. Because we have just scratched the surface, I have provided you with some recovering references below.
However, I leave you with the knowledge and the hope that although shame does not discriminate, neither does re-emergence from it.
Step out of the shadows of shame. Feel the rays of sun shine on you. Get ready to re-emerge through.
Publishers Notes: Holli Kenley is an American Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and the author of “ Daughters Betrayed By Their Mothers: Moving from Brokenness to Wholeness” and “Power Down & Parent Up!: Cyber Bullying, Screen Dependence & Raising Tech-Healthy Children”
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