How to Break the Cycle of Shame & Move On With Your Life?

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Shame is a toxic emotion that can mess up your health and general well-being, often leading to substance abuse, anxiety, depression, poor self-esteem and confidence, and other difficulties.

But where does our shame come from? And how do you break the cycle of shame and move on with your life?

What is Shame?

Shame is a self-conscious emotion we develop as children, reflected in our feelings of worthlessness, disgrace, and inadequacy.

Although people often feel shame and guilt at the same time, they are two different emotions. In contrast to guilt, which involves reasoning, “I feel bad because I made a mistake,” shame consists of thoughts such as “I am bad.”

What Causes Us to Feel Shame?

We feel embarrassed when we realize our behavior doesn’t meet our usual standards. Some typical situations that can cause you to feel self-critical, self-conscious, and ashamed would include the following:

  • Getting in trouble with your partner for something you said or did
  • Being laughed at by someone you considered close
  • Making a mistake that caused trouble for your team at work
  • Having to handle your child’s tantrum at the store
  • Being judged by others
  • Having people say things about how you look

However, many people develop a distorted view of themselves as not good enough or flawed early on. Individuals who suffer from shame were frequently raised by caregivers who made them feel unsafe and abandoned.

A child develops the belief that they are unloved because there is something inherently wrong with them making it difficult for others to love accept, and respect them. A child may believe this either because they are told directly that they are bad or because they assume something is wrong with them based on how they are treated.

Also, some people mistreated or abused as children took the shame and pain of what happened to them and made it their own, thinking that what happened was somehow their fault.

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What is the Cycle of Shame?

When you are overwhelmed by embarrassment, humiliation, and self-hatred, you recall your earlier errors, disappointments, and shame. As a result, you may start thinking self-destructive thoughts such as, “I’m a bad person,” “I don’t deserve love,” or ” I am a failure,” which add to your shame, spiraling you into the destructive cycle of shame.

How to Recognize When You Are in a Cycle of Shame

Each of us takes our embarrassed inner child into adulthood. So, each time our shame is triggered, we relive the notion that we are essentially flawed, which we accepted as children.

For example, when your five-year-old says something inappropriate or acts out in public, the actual or perceived judgment of those around you can trigger deep-seated feelings of shame and inadequacy.

To avoid shame, you get self-protective and shame your child – unconsciously passing shame along to the next generation.

Understanding where your shame comes from can help you become more aware of your triggers and capable of identifying them. So, instead of passing on the shame to your child, pause for a moment and ask yourself whether this is a behavior you learned long ago that no longer serves you.

What is Shame Spiraling?

Toxic shame can be very destructive and dangerous. When you get locked in the cycle of shame, you might feel worthless, anxious, or depressed. You may then suppress these painful emotions and replace them with resentment, irritation, or wrath.

Furthermore, you may make poor decisions, isolate yourself, and avoid relationships and close people. Toxic shame can cause some people to numb painful feelings with drugs, alcohol, and other harmful coping mechanisms.

Spiraling shame can make you feel even worse about yourself and less inclined to seek treatment.

If you have mental health issues, the cycle of shame you’re trapped in can exacerbate your condition and make it impossible to break the cycle on your own.

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How to Break the Cycle of Shame

Fortunately, with the help of a qualified mental health coach or a counselor, it is possible to break the cycle of shame and move on with your life. Counseling can be a safe place to talk about your feelings, learn to recognize your triggers, reevaluate your self-worth, and learn to reframe your shame and let it go.

1. Talk about Your Feelings

Own your feelings, and don’t be afraid of being vulnerable. As with every other emotion, your shame is trying to tell you something. Tuning into your feelings and talking about them in a safe and accepting environment might help your inner child come out of its embarrassment shell and begin healing.

2. Be Aware of Your Triggers

Shame is frequently caused by the notion that we are not good enough. Make a list of times when you were self-destructive. Attempt to recall instances when you felt worthless, unlovable, or imperfect. Rather than avoiding your triggers, try figuring out why they make you feel bad about yourself.

3. Define Your Self-Worth

Accept responsibility for your mistakes, but don’t let them degrade and define you. Remember all the good things you’ve done for others. Practicing affirmations can be a great way to boost self-respect and self-acceptance.

4. Learn to Reframe Your Shame

Self-compassion can be the best way to reframe shame. Self-compassion is treating yourself with the same kindness and love you would show another human being. It can help you reframe negative self-talk and learn to love the parts of yourself that you hate.

5. Let Go

Self-forgiveness is the road to breaking the cycle of shame and letting go. Your counselor can help you reclaim yourself by understanding that self-forgiveness is a choice.

Moving Past the Pain of Shame

Understanding that you have the choice of forgiving yourself and others can help you come to terms with your shame-provoking experiences and release the judgments and beliefs placed on you by others. Only then will you be able to break free from the cycle of shame, move past your pain, and heal.

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Kamini Wood

Kamini Wood

Kamini Wood is a Certified Life Coach, and best-selling author. Her mission is to empower high-performing adults and teens to become resilient self-leaders by reducing stress and anxiety, overcoming imposter syndrome, working through trauma, and re-discovering their AuthenticMe®.

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I’m Kamini Wood

My name is Kamini Wood, and I’m here to accompany you on your journey toward understanding yourself on a deeper level so can create the life you want personally and professionally. It’s time to embrace your AuthenticMe ™