It’s happening again. I’m standing in my closet, trying to decide what to wear to my husband’s company banquet. I can’t make a decision because I’m frozen by waves of shame. There are layers of shame here. Different expectations and insecurities coming from different sources. They’ve all been triggered by this one event. To get through the shame without it overwhelming me and making me miserable all night, I need to step back and get some distance so I can gain a more realistic perspective.
What shame says
Shame tells me I’m old and wrinkly, overweight, and have no sense of fashion. It says everyone else will be judging my outfit and hair as less than beautiful. Shame also tells me I’m too shy and no good in group situations, so I’ll spend the whole evening feeling awkward and left out. Beyond that, shame adds, I don’t have an impressive career resume like the others who are attending, so I’ll be looked down upon because I chose to be a stay-at-home mom instead of utilizing my degree. Also, they’ll roll their eyes at my pathetic publishing attempts.
I could go on, but you get the idea.
As long as I wallow in these shame messages, I’ll be held bondage by shame’s view of things. But that’s not the only option. I can choose to step back and gain perspective. I can make room to observe my thoughts and feelings, and see that they’re not the whole truth.
My perspective when shame has taken charge
When I buy into shame’s opinions and judgements of me, I accept thoughts like these:
- I never look as beautiful or put together as other women
- When I wear fancy clothes I feel like an imposter and I’m sure everyone else can tell
- I’m always awkward and miserable at these kind of parties
- These people will think I’m a career failure
- It’s safer to withdraw and say nothing than to open my mouth and sound like an idiot
When I allow these kind of thoughts to fill my head, my emotions will follow. I’ll be anxious, insecure, and withdrawn, which could doom me to a miserable evening.
Fortunately, I don’t have to cede control of my thoughts and feelings to shame and its ugly messages.
When I get some distance, I gain perspective
When I step back, I can be aware that the messages shame is telling me are not wholly correct. They are a skewed version of reality. One I don’t need to accept.
Instead of focusing on painful memories of past social awkwardness or stressing over the fact I don’t look like a fashion model, I can change my focus. I can bring up memories of the times I’ve enjoyed connecting with total strangers. In fact, some of the strangers I’ve met at a large event have turned into good friends. Or the times I’ve gotten compliments on my dress.
When I consider the voices of shame from enough distance to gain perspective, it’s easier to question their messages and adopt a more positive mindset instead. My insecurities are still there, but I’m not totally helpless in their grip.
Three questions that help me gain perspective
Might others have these same insecurities?
Shame wants me to feel isolated and helpless. When I step back and gain perspective, I can acknowledge that almost all women struggle with body image issues. Even the ones that look totally gorgeous. And I can acknowledge that I’m not the only one attending this event who feels nervous or uncomfortable at large social events. When I remember that I won’t be the only one in the room with insecurities, I’m not so afraid. And I can quit beating myself up for having very normal and human anxieties.
Is the fear behind the shame based on events that are ancient history?
How much of the fear I feel about this situation is based on stuff that happened when I was a child? I’m no longer the shy little girl I was in kindergarten. I have so much more life experience. I’ve developed more capable coping mechanisms and better social skills.
Instead of allowing ancient painful feelings to flood me, I can step back and gain perspective. Then I’m able to bring up more recent memories of large social events where I enjoyed myself. I can remember attending large national conferences all by myself, and surviving just fine. I’m able to see that I’ve done well at large events before, therefore I can do it again. I can look these old fears in the eye and gently tell them they no longer apply.
Who am I really worried about impressing? (And does it matter?)
Our world is saturated by images of what a beautiful woman should look like. Do we really want the 1.5 trillion-dollar fashion industry dictating how we should feel about our appearance? (Shocking news: advertisers want us to stay discontent about our appearance, so we keep spending money on their products.)
Where do you need to gain some perspective and move past shame?
I hereby give you permission to question the opinions and judgments shame tries to foist on you. Instead of allowing those critical, negative voices to control your attitude and dictate your choices, you can tell them their opinion isn’t the only truth here. You can step back, gain perspective, and quit letting shame rule your life. Or ruin your evening out.
The shame resilience strategies
- Know your shame triggers
- Step back and gain perspective
- Trust your caring community
- Practice empathy on yourself and others