If I were to name one thing that has the most impact on a person’s happiness and experience of life, it would be their self-worth.
Our level of self-worth affects everything – from our health and relationships to our careers and financial abundance.
So, let me ask, where do you stand on the spectrum of self-worth?
Do you feel good about yourself?
Do you love and accept yourself, warts and all?
Or are you ‘self-rejecting’, always finding reasons to feel bad about yourself?
If it’s the latter, I invite you to read on.
In my many years of practice as a therapist, I’ve observed that there’s one emotion that almost always sits behind low self-worth.
It happens to be the most hidden, least talked about and least understood of all the emotions.
That emotion is shame.
Shame is the deeply painful feeling that at your core you are not worthy.
It’s a gut-wrenching, stomach-churning, soul-crushing sense of inadequacy.
Shame makes you feel that you are a terrible person; that you are being punished by life.
It makes you want to disappear; to become invisible.
It’s such a dark and distressing emotion that many people tend to deny its existence.
They have a hard time identifying it because it’s buried way down in the depths of their consciousness, where its insidious presence quietly controls their beliefs about themselves.
Shame that has become internalised in this way distorts how you see yourself and has a devastating impact on your self-worth.
Its effect is toxic.
It can be very difficult to admit, even to yourself, that deep down you feel ashamed of who you are.
But unresolved toxic shame tends to show up in certain ways, and once you shine the spotlight on it, the shackles begin to loosen.
Take a look at the statements below.
Can you recognise any of these attitudes and behaviours in yourself?
A self-contemptuous, self-critical attitude. Your inner critic is loud, demeaning and demanding, constantly telling you you’re not good enough.
Self-doubt and a lack of confidence. You find it hard to trust your own judgement and decisions.
Being overly concerned about making mistakes. You worry about upsetting other people and saying or doing the wrong thing.
Hiding parts of yourself from others. You constantly wear a mask or have different selves to stop other people from discovering the real you. You fear that if people see your flaws, they will reject you.
Often feeling upset by other people’s responses to you to the point where you just want to hide or disappear.
Difficulty trusting others and a tendency to withdraw, e.g. not calling or visiting family, friends and acquaintances.
Avoiding eye contact and never squarely facing another person when talking to them. (I see this one often when working with clients.)
Blaming yourself, even for things that are not your fault.
Feeling very hurt or offended if someone criticises you, even if it’s constructive criticism, and tending to overreact.
Perfectionism and being very focused on your achievements. But regardless of how much you achieve, you never feel that it’s enough or that you’re good enough. (This is usually an attempt to shore up your self-esteem – in other words, make yourself feel better by being in perpetual ‘doing’ mode.)
A nagging sense of being watched and judged the whole time; as though at any minute someone will pull you up on your shortcomings and unmask the real you. (This is commonly known as imposter syndrome.)
Feeling low, anxious and hopeless a lot of the time, without really knowing why.
- When you get really down, secretly thinking it would be easier to die than be you.
As you can see, shame can show up in many different ways and rarely does so in a straightforward manner.
It is characterised by mistrust, hostility towards the self, and a deep dread of exposure.
If you have sufficient self-awareness and emotional insight to recognise these patterns in yourself, then you have a head start, because to heal anything you must first become aware of it.
For some people, however, shame is such an intense and painful emotion that they will go to great lengths to avoid feeling it.
It is too dark and dangerous a place to visit, even transiently.
As a result, they disconnect from their emotions altogether, and this leads them to engage in extremely destructive behaviours.
Unresolved toxic shame is often at the root of addictions (to drugs, alcohol, food, etc.).
It can also show up sideways in the form of highly defensive behaviours, e.g. aggressive or violent displays of rage, projecting blame onto others, and belittling other people’s reactions to words and actions that are hurtful (e.g. “Why are you making such a big deal of this?”).
The shamed person’s low self-worth reinforces feelings of shame, and the shame in turn further corrodes their already fragile, negative self-image.
It’s a self-perpetuating cycle that leaves nothing but misery and heartache in its wake.
The origins of the kind of internalised shame I’m talking about here can often be traced to two things: a) damaging childhood experiences and b) abuse.
If as a child you were continually criticised, severely punished, neglected, abandoned or ridiculed, then you will have grown up with the belief that it was somehow your fault for not measuring up to your caregivers’ demands and expectations.
Rather than seeing their behaviour as a reflection of their own issues and challenges, you will have seen it as a judgement on your inherent value as a person.
Secondly, if you have experienced sexual abuse, the impact on your identity and self-image will have been devastating.
Sadly, I see this all too often in my therapy practice.
It’s heartbreaking to witness how common this form of abuse actually is.
Perpetrators can be highly adept at concealing the abuse and making you believe that somehow you were to blame.
If you have been through this, you need to know that firstly in no way were you to blame and secondly you are not alone.
No matter what has happened to you, what you have been told in the past or how convinced you are of your own deficiencies, I’m here to tell you that the crushing burden of shame can be released.
And it is possible to rebuild your self-worth.
Here are three pieces of advice I would offer to anyone who wishes to embark on a healing journey.
1. Find someone to work with
While I’m a strong advocate of self-help and believe there are emotional issues that we can work on by ourselves, this is not one of them. It’s important that you enlist the help of a compassionate and suitably qualified person to help you identify and work through the harmful legacy of shame.
2. Know that shame begins to dissipate as soon as you talk about it
Shame thrives on being hidden. It likes to lurk in the dark and is sustained by silence. The key to dismantling it is to share whatever it is you feel ashamed about with just one other human being who will show you love and empathy, and who will not judge you.
Since the one thing that shame cannot tolerate is exposure, as soon as you bring it out of the darkness into the light, it will begin to fizzle out.
3. To dissolve the low-frequency energy of shame, a higher frequency energy is needed
All emotions leave an energetic imprint. Shame is an extremely low-frequency energy. It vibrates at a mere 20 according to the Map of Consciousness devised by David R. Hawkins, whereas love vibrates at 540 and peace at 600.
Shame imprints may originate in childhood, but they may also have their origins in your multi-dimensional being, for example, unresolved karmic issues or abuse suffered in previous lifetimes.
Therefore, while the problems manifest at the physical, emotional or mental levels, they cannot be truly healed at those levels. Only a high-frequency energy can dissolve the dark energies of shame. Working with an energy healing modality such as Divine Healing can help you do that.
Brené Brown says, “When we deny our stories, they define us. When we own our stories, we get to write a brave new ending.”
Is it time for you to start writing your brave new ending?