Excavating Shame

You know all of those things that you’ve been holding onto for as long as you can remember, because you kind of sort of think maybe you were to blame for them or they reaffirmed what you’ve always suspected has been true about you or you just can’t really seem to let them go? Today we are going to talk about those memories, and the shame is tied up with them.

The memories that are dragging you down.

The memories that keep you chained up in a life that you don’t love.

The memories that make you think you love someone who is mean to you.

The memories that the darkest part of your brain plays on repeat during late at night, when everyone else is sleeping.

terminal91 - the color of shame

I’m going to ask you to shine a light deep into your subconscious and check out what is lurking deep in your body – the skeletons in your closet, the spiders in your brain, the sludge around your heart. And, ultimately, I’m going to ask you what it would be like to let a little of that go.

I’m going to ask you what purpose your shame serves in your life. How does it protect you? Why is it that you’ve carried it around with you for so long?

Today we’re going there – but I promise you are going to be OK. We’re going to do it together, because this is one that applies to all of us.

I am also going to ask you to suspend your disbelief for a moment and take this in:

You are worth so much more than you are giving yourself credit for.

We cannot change the things that have happened to us. We cannot change the events that we’ve been responsible for, either truthfully responsible or simply present. We cannot change the things that we regret.

The fact of the matter is: no amount of repenting or pretending or making-up-for is going to change those things we’d rather forget. They are ours for life, but that does not mean that they have to control us. It does not mean that we are not worth dreaming up some more ideal circumstances, just because we have some things in our personal histories that we aren’t proud of.

You can choose, today if you’re ready, to expend your energy in ways that make you feel good.

You can decide that you’re going to excavate some of the shame from your body by forgiving yourself for your past. You can decide to believe, like in your gut believe, that as a product of your lived experiences, each and every one of those experiences has served a purpose.

Now, I know that can be a tough pill to swallow. What about the time that I was sexually-assaulted? Yes, that time too. What about the time I was chased out of the fraternity by four boys screaming about what a fat whale I was? Yes, especially that time. What about every single moment that I was made to believe that I was _____ by the people who were the closest to me, when I was so young and vulnerable? That bit is crucial.

All of those horrendous moments – are fair game for examination and letting go.

If you are the sum of all of your parts, it would stand to reason that in the journey of learning to love yourself, learning to love the parts of yourself you would never tell a single other person if you could help it – is crucial.

Forgiving yourself for those things that are in the past, is crucial.

I know it’s ugly. I know it’s scary. I know that we keep those moments tucked away for a good reason.  I know why you might rather tell me to fuck off and stop prying. I am filled with nothing but limitless compassion for your profanity, because believe me examining those aspects of my life makes me really fucking mad and more than a little crazy too.

If it didn’t feel so fucking good to let go – I wouldn’t ask it of you.

And it does. Trust me.

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29 thoughts on “Excavating Shame”

  1. I get this, I so get this, but it’s so hard to live it. I can let go of the loss, the pain and the regret and forgive myself, but the past still creeps in at 3am and kicks me in the stomach. I guess its always going to be a work in progress…

    • It is always going to be a work in progress. I am always going to be a work in progress too, and sometimes? All of those stories and fears and emotions steamroll me all over again, but I think, for me, the difference is in accepting that I did the best that I could . That way, even though there have been horrible experiences, I try to hold as little shame and responsibility as possible, even when the facts remain.

  2. Letting go of shame and letting go of regret have been two huge factors in my recovery. Embrace your past, the ugly, the bad, and the evil. As the Buddha would say invite your enmities in for tea. Make them your friends and as the mirror of your reaction changes you will find openings and forgiveness in your life.

  3. I SOOOO agree with you Mara, this is the way I have learnt to view my own experiences in a new light, including the time when I was a binge eater, when the company I worked for went belly up, when when when… Thank you for reaffirming this 🙂

  4. this is a beautiful, honest and very valuable post. I appreciate so much the line “we cannot change the things we regret” which begs the question (as you did re: shame) then why do we continue to regret them? What does the regret serve? Or in my case, the blame and the anger? As far as I can tell it just helps me justify playing small which is a disservice not just to me, but everyone in my world! Thank you!

  5. There’s a scene in Girl, Interrupted where Valerie (Whoopi Goldberg’s character) is telling Susanna (Winona Ryder’s character) that in order to start living… to get out of the state she’s in she has to quit curling up with all of those things that are eating at her.

    This post reminds me a lot of that. I think in getting rid of the shame and forgive yourself of it, you have to admit it’s there… you have to get it out …

    anyways, I love this… and it’s something I need to work on.

  6. our minds just go over and over these EMOTIONAL memories. we may not even know we’re stuck on hold hangups, but then all of a sudden our shoulders are up by my ears and we’re freaking out. the issues are in our tissues! move. breathe. think.

  7. Brene Brown’s work on shame was a huge awakening for me, because I realized that shame is the thing that links most of my patients (and me) together. Regardless of our darknesses, when we claim them, when we shine light, we gain freedom. The only thing I would add to this powerful post is that, sometimes, you need someone to hold the light for you. It’s okay–and strong–to ask for that support.

    • I love Brene Brown! Her book The Gifts of Imperfection is so insightful… I just need to work on putting into practice what she conveys… because it makes so much sense… particularly, “ Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light. ”

      • I also have some SERIOUS Brene Brown love – she is a shame mastermind. Ann, I love what you’ve said here about asking someone to hold the light. That is such a fantastic reminder, and so beautifully put. Thank you.

  8. Thank you for this beautiful post! It is so much “safer” to shrink back in shame and hide the aspects of ourselves we think no one will accept us for. Forgiveness is such an important tool in keeping our hearts open. Thank Mara for sharing your vulnerability!

  9. Ah yes such an important message here to be able to let go of the shame how little or big in order to move forward. Thank-you for sharing this.

  10. thank you for this eloquent post. i needed that reminder – “you are worth so much more than you are giving yourself credit for.” it can be so hard to hold on to, so thank you

  11. Thank you very much for this post. I have been a lurker for quite some time and I can’t even begin to tell you how much you have helped me. You just seem to always know the right things to say and the best way to express them. Thank you.

  12. Ah, so beautiful, and such an important message. Burying and hiding do not lead to long-term self-love and happiness, scary and painful as it can be to look into those deep, dark places.

    Thank you for this important reminder.

  13. Hi, I’m reading this post as I am discovering your blog. I can’t believe how much it resonates with me and I want to thank you for that. The authenticity of your words moved me deeply.

    • Hi Julia, Thank you so much for your comment! I’m so glad to hear from you – please let me know if there is ever a topic that you’re yearning to see covered. xo

    • Hey Becky,

      My name is Julia. I’m a friend of Mara’s over at medicinalmarzipan. I read your comment regarding shame and regret about things we’ve done in the past.
      I write about this on my blog, feedmedaily.blogspot.com. Here are my thoughts:

      There is a difference between shame and guilt. When we’ve done something wrong we may think: *man, that was wrong. i don’t want to do that again. *As women dealing with self esteem, when we do something wrong we usually say something like: *man, that was wrong. something is wrong with me. I am wrong.” * See the difference? It’s best not to hold on to things from the past. The best we can do is say:* I made a mistake. I will try and do better as I go forward. *
      It’s definitely easier said than done.

      Check out my blog. Tweet about it if you’re into it. Maybe we can arrange some guest-blogging. I know I’ll definitely be following you! Be in touch. Julia

      • Thank you Julia, that is such a great point, and it’s definitely what I’m struggling with. We all make mistakes, and I know that, but there are mistakes I’ve made – and made amends for, but that I’m still holding against myself.

        Love your blog, I’ve subscribed and I’m looking forward to get caught up to speed with your posts!

    • Hey Becky – Unfortunately, this is the hardest type of shame to let go of, but not impossible. I have done many, many things in the past that I regret and I have (perhaps unconsciously) put myself in situations that have been extremely dangerous for me. I try to focus on the idea that no matter what, I was doing the best that I could at that moment. If it seems like I “should” have known how to be better/made better choices/been a better person in that moment, I try to be compassionate with myself and think about why I made those choices, in order to not replicate it again. Does that makes sense? Shame only has power over us when we internalize the the feeling that we are “bad” – if you can have compassion and love for that person, even if you still feel the regret, it becomes easier to start sorting through it all. It also helps to check in with someone else about the event, because we may be holding on to responsibility for things that we did by force or necessity, which may not be our fault at all. xo

  14. Thanks for this. Bookmarked. Much-needed…I don’t have much fat shame to deal with, but I do have other types of shame and regret to work through. ;p
    The lightening feeling of sharing and letting go is indeed wonderful. ;D


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