Hey there, it’s Graham here. Now, if you’re interested in making some serious inroads into boosting your self-confidence, then you’ve come to the right place because what I want to do is talk about the number 1 factor that undermines our self-confidence the most. And it’s an interesting one because very, very few people are even prepared to talk about it. So you’re probably wondering, “Well, what is it?” Well, it’s very simple. In one word, the problem is shame.
Now, you probably recognize shame as a feeling of embarrassment or as a feeling of inhibition that holds you back from doing things sometimes, and it’s often accompanied by the thought in your head of “What are people going to think? If I do what I want to do, if I act on my impulses, then what are people going to think?”
And this has a really powerful effect on undermining our self-confidence because it’s a very strong emotional reaction and will inhibit us from doing what we want to do and from essentially being who we really are or being who we want to be.
So the problem is shame, essentially. Now, shame arises because of events that have happened to us in our past. A lot of parents use shame as a poor parenting strategy to control their children. If they don’t know any other better way to control their children and they feel that they need to do that, then shame is a very powerful way. The problem with shame is that it’s very damaging and has a long-lasting effect.
Shame is so prevalent that you may not even recognize it yet, but once you become aware of it you’ll probably start seeing it all over the place. Many religious groups, social groups, the media, all use shame as a way of trying to control other people. So it’s extremely widespread and very prevalent.
Of course, we can’t do anything about controlling how other people relate to us and how they treat us, but all we can do is try to get to the bottom of the shame that we’ve inherited from maybe our family, the religion we were brought up with, other people around us, and get to the bottom of it so that we don’t have to feel ashamed when we’re essentially being ourselves.
And this leaves us more free to feel less self-conscious and able to relate to people in the way that we really want. But how do you get there? Given that shame is so powerful, how do we un-shame ourselves?
Well, there’s a trick here because shame is not something that you can deal with by yourself. Well, perhaps if you spent the rest of your life meditating in the corner you might be able to make some inroads into it. But that’ll trash your social skills, so I really wouldn’t recommend that you do that.
Instead, what you need to do is to link up with other people who are able to give you the unconditional love and acceptance that you missed out on when you were younger that related to the shame arising in the first place.
See, what will have happened to all of us at some point in the past was we acted in accordance with our own integrity, our own beliefs and in accordance with our impulses and who we are, and other people around who we were reliant on for love, affection or just plain acceptance withdrew their love, affection or acceptance when we acted in the way that was natural for us.
So we learnt to become ashamed of ourselves. Some religions even teach that we’re fundamentally flawed and that we need saving, that there’s something actually wrong with us and shame reflects this feeling on a very deep level.
So what you need to do is find yourself a group of people who are willing to offer you unconditional love and acceptance. This is why groups like twelve-step groups or other social therapy groups are extremely powerful. As long as everyone in the group is prepared to abide by the rule of offering acceptance and validation to someone when they’re expressing how they feel and what’s important to them, then this can be very de-shaming.
Now, if this seems overwhelming or the thought of expressing yourself and talking in front of a group just seems too terrifying to start with, then the logical place to start is with a really close friend, a therapist, a counsellor, a doctor, somebody that you completely can trust and that you can really express what’s going on for you without having to hold back because of shame from the past.
One of the ironies is that there’s a certain amount of shame attached to the idea even of seeking help. So you may be reluctant at first to want to go and do this, but getting over that shame of seeking help, being vulnerable and getting what you need in order to de-shame yourself is all just part of the process.
So if you have any resistance, look at that as just another part of the shame and take whatever steps you need in order to get past that so that you can hook up with somebody at least who you can totally express what’s honest and truly going on for you.
Do this over time and you’ll find that the level of shame that you feel reduces and you’ll find that you’re more free to be able to relate to other people the way that you want, be able to relax and be able to really feel like you’re being yourself around people instead of worrying “Oh, what are they thinking?”, feeling self-conscious and feeling essentially ashamed of who you are.
One of the interesting things to remember is that at the bottom of all this there’s really nothing wrong with you. You’re perfect just the way you are. You’re fine just the way you are. It’s simply that we’ve had experiences that have taught us that we’re not acceptable in some way or that we need to hold back in order to get the love and acceptance that we really crave.
Ironically as an adult, the more we hold back the less acceptance that we tend to get. Sure, it’s true, there are some people who are never going to like us or never going to appreciate us, but avoiding the fear of that is simply going to keep us stuck in a pattern where shame is holding us down all the time.
So I highly recommend that you look into this because I think shame is one of the unspoken realities of life that most people don’t talk about, essentially because we’re ashamed of the fact that we’re ashamed. And yet everybody experiences it.
If you want to read more about this, I highly recommend John Bradshaw’s book, Healing the Shame That Binds You. But simply reading a book alone isn’t going to do it for you; you need to actually hook up with real human beings that are able to give you the acceptance that you need when you put yourself out there.