The Antidote to Shame
by Kim Horkan, See Change Ambassador
As someone who has struggled with mental illness for the majority of my life, I have become very well acquainted with the feeling of shame. As a teenager growing up, I felt shame in abundance. Shame I couldn’t get up in the morning to go to school because of deep depression. Shame I had lost interest in learning because school work felt so pressurised and overwhelming. Shame I had my first panic attack in my Irish classroom and all of my peers turned to look at me, and my principle didn’t seem to care. By the time I turned 18, I had had enough. Enough of feeling inferior because of an illness I had inherited, that was in no way my fault. I decided to share my story on social media, and with this, my journey of openness and transparency began. Soon after, the feelings of shame I was experiencing began to dissipate. Shame thrives on silence and suppression.
Sharing my story and actively talking about my mental health helped me to alleviate feelings of shame. But there are many other antidotes; let me share with you some examples:
Self-acceptance is difficult in today’s society. We live in a world where we are constantly told to keep striving to be better versions of ourselves. As if our self-worth is defined by status, material items and how many social media followers we possess. Self-acceptance is accepting ourselves, just as we are; our messy, unfiltered selves. We do not have to keep upgrading ourselves in order to be worthy of love. Our ability to love and be loved is intrinsic, not something to be earned. Shame feeds off self-deprecation. When we do not love and accept ourselves fully and we are met with feelings of shame and unworthiness in our lives, shame can grow exponentially into every corner of our being. Be brave enough to accept yourself fully, and watch how emotionally resilient you can become.
“I’ve learned people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel” – Maya Angelou
Kindness is everything. When we are kind to someone who has experienced being shamed because of having a mental health difficulty, we can truly help them relinquish feelings of shame and unworthiness. Unfortunately, we live in a world where there are many people who do not understand mental ill health and will shame those who are struggling. The reality is the perpetrator is more than likely dealing with difficulties in life themselves, and has maybe suppressed their own emotions and traumas. Sometimes they could also do with some kindness thrown their way. Maybe the antidote to people who shame others, is also kindness. Ever heard the expression “kill them with kindness”? I think that approach can be very powerful.
When we have feelings of shame, or have been shamed by others, the last thing we want to do is enhance those feelings by judging or being cruel to ourselves. We do not want to kick ourselves when we are down. Self- compassion is the best remedy for an already wounded soul. Self-compassion is a journey we are all on and some will find it easier than others, but ultimately our relationship with ourselves is the most important relationship we will ever have. Learn to love yourself and watch as feelings of shame will diminish and loose power over you. It’s easier said than done, but you are worth the hard work it takes to find self-love and inner peace.
We have come a long way in working towards erasing the stigma around mental health. But we have further to go. Shame is stigma’s requited love; they live in harmony together and thrive off self-hatred and inferiority. If we can love ourselves unapologetically, be kind to those around us, accept our wonderfully imperfect selves and talk openly about our troubles, shame will metamorphosize into love and compassion and stigma will be left heartbroken and powerless.
If you are having a tough time at the moment and need to reach out for support, please contact any of the following