Journaling Power: Dealing with Shame

Author - Mari L. McCarthy
Published - April 30, 2014

Shame – it’s a scary word. It’s a horrible feeling that everyone knows at least to some extent. Shame feels so bad that we focus a huge part of life on ways to avoid it.

Have you talked about shame in your journal?

Being ashamed is something we encounter early in life. Our parents shame us into using the toilet when we’re toddlers; our siblings and friends shame us into trying new things and learning to get along with each other.

So shame is an important part of growing up. If we never experienced it, we might well opt to stay comfortably where we are/as we are. And since change is inevitable, such a choice would work against Nature. Being alive means constantly growing and becoming.

But there's no denying it: shame is the pits.

We’re taught to love ourselves, but our shame suggests we’re unlovable. When we feel it we want to roll in a ball and die, or strike out at something, or otherwise hurt our own self.

It’s contradictory: shame helps us grow, even while it reduces us to a helpless puddle on the floor.

Anger’s intense and it helps to decompress overbearing emotions; sadness can be tolerated, even mined for its muses; fear can be deactivated when you analyze it. But it’s hard to know what to do with shame.

As always, you can turn to your journal for clues.

  1. What is shame? Write a full page or more describing it. Then doodle its portrait.
  2. List a few instances in which you felt shame. Then list what you did with the shame each time. Do you observe any patterns?
  3. Have a chat about shame with your Inner Coach in your journal. Ask questions: Why did I do that thing that caused my shame? Why does it feel so awful? What can I do about it? Don’t be afraid to ask a question because you think there’s no answer. Ask it anyway, and see what happens.
  4. List some of the things you do that are directly tied to avoiding shame. We all do these things every day: we wear acceptable clothing, interact with civility, take care of our pets, etc. We do them not ONLY to avoid shame, but we do know that to neglect these things would bring us shame. Making this list will broaden the reach of your exploration.
  5. Pay attention to the feelings of shame that you observe in other people around you. Especially notice your own reactions to their shame. Mull over these things the next time you journal.

I wonder, does awareness of others’ shame make you more compassionate? Does that make you, in turn, more worthy of compassion that you thought?

What other ideas do you have about dealing with shame? Please write a comment!

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