Many of us don't realise how much of a hold shame - specifically toxic shame - has over us. When shame is 'toxic', we don't just feel shame over what we do but we experience deep shame over WHO WE ARE.
Toxic shame at the core of our identity re-tells the lie that our worth depends on never making a mistake or never disappointing others.
In this episode I share some of my own experiences of shame and how I began to be freed from the hold that it had over me.
Share this episode via this episode page.
Episode 4 & Episode 5 - Living from the Inside Out
Episode 30 - Counselling or Spiritual Direction (or both)?
A Leader's Spirituality
00:16 - Introduction
02:21 - What Shame Really Is
08:08 - An Example of the Effect of Shame
19:23 - My Redemption Moment
24:19 - Shame as an Ally
27:31 - Living from the Inside Out
31: 17 - PRAXIS: Listen. Ponder. Act
35:10 - Conclusion
- As you listened to this episode, what really struck you?
- How does shame show up in your life?
- Think of one concrete act you can take towards building a more secure relationship with your inner self.
- If you have already been learning more about healing journey for a while, without taking action, I invite you to take that step, to look for someone trained in this area to guide and companion you on this journey.
For full details of this reflection prompt, please see transcript.
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EPISODE 51 | FREEDOM FROM THE SHAME THAT BINDS YOU
If the root of my identity is not defined by my virtues or my flaws, but lies in my very being, then neither praise or criticism can affect my self-worth.
Welcome to Becoming Me, your podcast companion and coach in your journey to a more integrated and authentic self. I am your host, Ann Yeong, and I'm here to help you grow in self-discovery and wholeness. If you long to live a more authentic and integrated life and would like to hear honest insights about the rewards and challenges of this journey, then take a deep breath, relax, and listen on to Becoming Me.
Hello again, dear listeners! Okay, so, today I want to talk a little bit more about what lies at the heart of the struggle that each of us have in this journey to becoming more ourselves. Right, in the much earlier episodes of Becoming Me, I spoke more about, you know, the struggles that I've always had in – let's say, feeling that I'm not good enough –
– you know, always feeling very, very vulnerable to criticism. And I may have dropped, you know, the term "shame" every now and then, here and there, just like I had been dropping the term about, you know, "inner child healing" in some of my stories. So, today, I want to talk a little bit more about shame – because as much as we don't like thinking about and talking about shame, it is the very thing that we tend to run away from in our own lives.
We can't talk about becoming more ourselves without looking at how shame binds us and also how we can be set free from the prison of shame in our lives. So, shame feels terrible, right? I mean, in the moment when we have an attack of shame, it has everything we do not want to deal with.
[00:02:21] WHAT SHAME REALLY IS
It is always painful. Shame whispers, or even shouts the very messages that our hearts fear most to hear, right? Messages like; you are not enough, you suck, you are weak – I mean, look at you, you mess things up again. You are always such a failure. You are irresponsible. You are not worthy. Right, no one loves you. Messages like that.
And these messages always come with a tone of contempt. And sometimes, in the moment when we feel attacked by these messages, we don't stay with it long enough to think, or to ponder – like whose voice am I hearing? Right, and I think sometimes that voice that comes, may come in the guise of someone in our lives – usually it begins with someone significant in our lives –
– when we were younger, who maybe started either intentionally or unintentionally making us feel this way about ourselves. But over time, usually that voice of shame takes on our own voice and that's what makes it so hard to bear. Now, we often feel like we're not good enough for others, right? We feel that way – that we're not good enough for others. But you know what hurts most, actually, is we're not good enough for ourselves.
So, we have come to believe that message that we are not good enough for ourselves. So, that voice of contempt that says things like, you know, you're not enough, you're not worthy – often, it is our own voice that we hear, and it is laced with contempt. And so, it hurts very much. It is everything that we hate and want to avoid, right.
No one in our right minds will want to sit around and hear that voice of contempt telling us about how bad we are and how much we suck. So, shame comes also with a whole slew of physiological reactions. Our bodies freeze up, or it tenses up. Our breathing becomes shallow. Or we may feel anger rise inside of us to protect us from this attack.
It is an instinctive reaction, right? When we feel under attack, even if it is from shame within us, we go into a fight or flight mode, right? We may become aggressive and want to become very defensive, we might just want to run away. Or we could maybe, numb out and disassociate so that we are not present in our bodies – so that it won't hurt so much.
These are all different ways that we may cope. And some of us cope through escaping through addictions, right. And addictions can range from substances like alcohol or drugs to binge watching TV videos, reading through eating, sex or pornography – all kinds of things that we may consciously know are not healthy for us. But you know, in that moment, it helps us run away from this excruciating pain.
And we usually pick up these tendencies to escape – it's a natural response, reaction – from a very young age. And these coping mechanisms were there to help us because without them, the pain would have been too much to bear. Right, but even as adults, now, we find that in times of stress especially, we can run to these same escapist things, right?
And some of us may adopt very socially acceptable addictions, such as workaholism. You know, it is a socially acceptable addiction because well, it makes us productive, or it helps us to achieve results. And a lot of times that addiction to work, for example, to being productive, is also our way of proving ourselves worthy, right –
– to try and prove that voice of shame wrong. Right, I am worthy because look what I can do, look what I can accomplish. It's a way of staying ahead – staying ahead of the attacks of unworthiness that come with shame. So, actually addiction and trying to prove ourselves worthy – a lot of times they come together, right.
But whether we realize it or not, whether we find that we are paralyzed, and we can't move, or we go into a frenzy of activity trying to keep ahead of the voice of shame – shame actually prevents us from living our real life. You know, it prevents us from being authentic.
It prevents us from being able to be present in our own bodies, to ourselves. Or to be fully present in any situation with any other person. When shame appears – especially this unhealthy toxic shame appears – we become absent; absent from ourselves, absent from other people, absent from God.
[00:08:08] AN EXAMPLE OF THE EFFECT OF SHAME
So, I'm going to share a little story. I was thinking about shame and a particular incident came to mind. This was many years ago, I think at least a decade ago. And I was in a group which was going through some workshop – you know, kind of like a formation workshop. And we were asked to do this exercise called a Johari Window.
Okay, J-O-H-A-R-I. Some of you may be familiar with that. But anyway, it's an exercise done in a group, okay. And it's to see how much of what you think about yourself, or how you perceive yourself matches or corresponds with what other people think about you. Okay, so, it's meant to – I mean, it's meant to kind of like give you a sense of how self-aware you are, or whether or not what you see about yourself, what you know about yourself also matches how other people see you.
So, you choose five adjectives out of a given list. There's a fixed list of adjectives or descriptors. And then you choose five and then you let the other people in the group – so, they could be colleagues or, you know, your teammates or whatever. And they choose five adjectives as well. So, each of the people who participate choose five adjectives that describe you.
Right, so you choose five that describe yourself and they choose five that they think describe you – each one of them do. And when you have all those adjectives, you put them – you sort them out into – there's like a kind of a diagram. There are four quadrants. Okay, so you look at which adjectives, both you and the other people picked out for you – that they think describe you.
And those would come under the quadrant where, you know, we all agree. Like I think this of myself, and other people think this of myself. And then there's a quadrant where it's called your "blind spot". So, that's where the adjectives that were chosen by other people to describe you does not match what you have chosen for yourself.
So, it indicates perhaps that, oh, you don't realize this about yourself, but other people think this of you. So, that's a blind spot. And there is a quadrant where it's more, you know – you chose certain adjectives that describe you, that you feel describes you, but other people didn't choose that for you. So, it's kind of like, this is hidden.
This is what maybe I think I know about myself, and other people don't quite echo that, right. And then there's a fourth quadrant that's basically just adjectives that nobody chose – neither you, nor the people chose. This exercise, even though the list of adjectives that we were given to choose from –
– by and large, they were quite positive or neutral adjectives. Okay, so there's nothing there that is really negative. I remember when I realized this is an exercise that we'll be doing, I felt nervous. Okay, I felt pretty nervous. I remember feeling quite tense – like, oh, I hope I have an accurate sense of what people think about me.
See, because in my worldview or in the way that I've been living my life, survival – I know it sounds kind of intense to say survival, but if we are very honest, those of you who have also grappled with a sense of unworthiness, you'll know what I mean. When I say survival, it feels like survival depends on my ability to accurately know how people perceive me. Right, because I need to be able to manage my life according to what is reflected to me about others.
Because after all, my worth depends on the approval of others, right? So, I would not want to find out that I am completely off, or inaccurate in how people perceive me. So, that was why I was nervous doing this exercise. But that nervousness was nothing compared to how I felt when the organizer or the facilitator ask us to do a second exercise, which was adapted from Johari Window, but it's called Nohari Window.
Okay, so it's an adaptation and basically, the difference is, this time the adjectives given for selection – they are all the antonyms of the original list of adjectives. So, they are like the words that meant the opposite. Okay, so, if the first original list were mainly positive adjectives, this list for the Nohari Window, they were basically negative adjectives.
Okay, so, the exercise is how well do you know maybe like, you know, the negative aspects of yourself. And does that match up with what other people think about you? Okay, the negative things about you. Now, I remember externally, I tried to remain calm and like, you know, unconcerned, but inside me, everything, everything just wanted to find a reason to leave the room.
Okay, because this exercise is like my worst fears being realized – having to hear how I have failed. I mean an even scarier, right – having to find out criticisms about myself that I am not aware of. Because in my worldview, I, you know – I have to be good to be loved. I cannot be found lacking. Right, so, this was like – this made me feel like I was in a judgment seat.
Okay, I was waiting to be judged. Now, I've been trained also, and nurtured to receive criticism with grace and humility. By that, I mean, I've always been told, right, it is important to be able to receive criticism, be humble about it. Don't be afraid of criticism. I've been taught all that. I understand it.
Okay, I understand it in my head. Now, this was a virtue I was supposed to have. But the truth was, I cannot do it because I already had no self-worth apart from what others reflected to me about me. So, every criticism, even perceived criticism, hurts me to my very core. Okay, it really hurts me to my very core.
That was just how powerful the hold shame had over me. In order to begin to loosen this hold that shame had on me, I needed to rehabilitate my inner core, okay. The core of myself, my core identity. It could not be built on what others thought about me. Because that was actually what was happening in my life.
My identity had been built around what people thought about me. Not because I wanted to, it just happened that way. And I didn't know how not to be dependent on what people thought of me. Because I didn't trust my own knowing of myself. Now, I understood that this healing, this rehabilitation – that it needed to be from within me. My religious and spiritual formation also taught me that my identity rests in how God sees me.
Right, so, as a person of faith – as a person who, who knows that, you know, it shouldn't be what other people think of me that matters to me, but you know, what God thinks of me. I get that. That was what I understood. Okay, what I believed. I didn't – I couldn't do it. I couldn't let my identity rest in how God sees me because even though I know and taught to believe that He loves me unconditionally, the truth is, I don't feel it in my bones.
Okay, I didn't really believe that God saw me as wonderful and good. I wanted to believe it, but, you know, I didn't. If I was very honest, I didn't. God was for me, just another person or the ultimate person who could build me up or destroy me by His approval or criticism. So, you have no idea how desperate I am to win God's approval.
I was taught to trust Him. And cognitively, I believed I could, I felt that I should. And so, it was just horrible to realize that I simply was not able to do it. Okay, I just was not able to do it. So, why couldn't I trust God? Now, I know it was because of shame. Shame had destroyed my relationship with my inner-self, and it was this relationship with my inner self that, you know, filtered every other relationship that I had, including relationship with God.
And so, it was this relationship with my inner self that needed restoration in order for my core entity to be rebuilt. Now, there was a quote I recently saw, and it says, "once you have accepted your flaws, no one can use them against you". Right, once you have accepted your flaws, your imperfections, no one can use them against you.
Now, it's quite true. But how can I accept my flaws if my very right to exist – my value and my worthiness to be loved – rested on being flawless. Right, because that was what was driving me. I believed that I needed to be flawless in order to be worthy of love. So, shame has made me feel that every mistake or any flaw that I have was an existential blow to my being, when really it isn't, right.
Because a mistake – think about it – a mistake is what I do it. It isn't who I am. But those of us who suffer from toxic shame – who experienced toxic shame – have come to blend these two things together, such that when we do something wrong or we upset someone, we fail in something –
– instead of just thinking, oh yeah, okay, so this thing that I did fell short, we think I fall short. This indicates that I am a terrible person or I'm, you know – I'm lousy, I'm weak.
So, a mistake isn't who I am, but I haven't experienced that somehow. And so, I hid behind my accomplishments all my life. I found safety in being excellent. And I tried to hide even from myself, any weakness and failures that I may have. But in one of the most difficult seasons of my interior journey, you know, I found myself failing over and over again. And nothing I did to try and make things better actually worked.
Right, so, it was horrible to go through that time. I remember, it felt like I just couldn't do anything right anymore. And I reached a point where I couldn't deny it anymore. Like, objectively speaking, I felt like I had to say, I give up, I can't do this. I'm terrible at this. I suck at this, you know? And I was stripped off any mask that I may have had.
[00:19:23] MY REDEMPTION MOMENT
I didn't have anything to hide behind – any achievement I could hide behind, in that season. But that was also the moment of my redemption. Because when I faced up to the inevitable truth of my weakness and helplessness, I found that God still remained with me. What's more, He agreed with me. I felt Him agree with me that I sucked at what I was doing.
Okay, it was kind of like a funny thing. See, I always was trying to win His approval, right? I wanted to hear God say to me, good job, Ann. Oh, I'm proud of what you're doing. So, in that time, I felt like He was actually saying to me, yeah, no – Ann you know that's a terrible job. You don't know how to do this job well. But at the same time, He didn't seem at all disappointed about it.
Now, that didn't make sense to the way I've always lived my life. Right, because my belief is that how well I do is linked to how lovable I am. And here was God, my experience – my experience of God saying, you know, you're doing a terrible job, Ann. This is, you know – that you're so bad at this.
But at the same time, his presence was saying; I don't think any less of you. I love you. This is just the truth. And so, my experience of God telling me that I sucked at my job while being so matter-of-fact about it and saying it without any trace of disappointment – that helped me to separate my identity from what I could achieve. So, that began to break the hold that toxic shame had over me.
I realized if my identity really isn't made of what I could do, of what I could achieve, then I needed to rediscover who I am apart from what I could do – even what I could do for God. So, it was shortly after, you know, all of these things happened, that I was led to inner child healing, which you would know by now, began to help me see myself the way God sees me.
As a child of invaluable worth and value, just because I am. Just because I am, you know? Because I exist. Because I have being. And I began to treat myself that way – as someone of great worth and value. It was so hard at a start because I didn't – I had trouble believing that. Right, but I began to practice that, seeing myself as a child –
– as I would see another little child, as someone of great worth and value; worthy of love, worthy of my protection and my cherishing, someone worthy of my compassion and patience. A child that I will defend against the abuse of others. Right, so, I begin to be able to see where boundaries needed to be laid.
If I were to value myself, my inner self, if I could see the child in me that that deserved protecting from the abuse of others, I began to act differently. And it was that which really helped me break out of the chains of shame. If the root of my identity is not defined by my virtues or my flaws, but lies in my very being, then neither praise or criticism can affect my self-worth.
Let me repeat that. If the root of my identity is not defined by my virtues or my flaws, but lies in my very being, then neither praise or criticism can affect my self-worth. When my knowledge of who I am is anchored in my being, I find that I have the courage to fight real battles – real battles, not battles of ego, which, you know, usually happens so often.
A lot of our squabbles and fights are actually battles of ego. But when I have less need to protect myself against the criticism of others, because I know in the depths of my being that my worth is not dependent on that, then I can fight real battles of truth and justice.
Even if I come off looking like a failure to others, even if people are disappointed or people criticize me or condemn me or judge me – I mean all that would hurt, sure. But I know now, my worth has not changed. And that sometimes, you know, really being me, would meet opposition. But that God delights in me being unapologetically myself – the person that He created me to be.
[00:24:19] SHAME AS AN ALLY
So, the shame that once bound me, eventually became an ally. I know that sounds strange, right? Shame actually became an ally because now I still feel the pangs of toxic shame. I mean, even after years of inner work and healing, definitely. When I wade into deeper waters, when something happens – I mean, it would trigger my wounds.
Right, and I will still feel that attack of shame. And when it happens, I still feel like a helpless and terrified child again – frozen and prepared to flee, right. But now when I experienced that, it reminds me that what I need to do is to reconnect with my inner self. I know now that there's something I can do.
I am not actually helpless – that I can reconnect with that felt truth that I am lovable and beautiful, even as I am deeply flawed and imperfect. Right, just that experience that I had of God looking at me and saying, yeah, I mean, you know, all this. Yes, you're not doing good job here, but it's said with so much love. And you're still a delight to me. He's telling me I still love you.
I am learning to do that for myself. And what freedom it is to be able to own up that I am not as good or competent or patient, you know, in the eyes of certain people. Or that I am terrible at certain tasks – that I'm not good at everything. In fact, there are very few things that I'm really good at. And, you know, for everything else, I just am not that great at. While all the time knowing that I still am who I am and that I am loved unconditionally by God and by myself, even if not by others.
You know, a lot of times, especially when we do a good job at some of the things that we are created to do, we end up finding that people would be requesting things of us – asking us to show up, to meet certain needs. It is up to us to choose, to make that discernment – is the request that has come to me now, is it indeed a request that I was created to fulfil? Is this aligned with who I am?
And more importantly, is this is what God is inviting me to do, right. In the past, when I was such a slave to not upsetting others, to pleasing others, I would just want to say yes, because I didn't want to disappoint people. And sometimes that meant, ultimately, disappointing them or disappointing myself because I couldn't stand up to being who I am. Or I would say yes to something that I was really not created to do, and then do a bad job of it.
But now, I have a lot more freedom to make that discernment what to take up, what to say no to. Always knowing – doing all this – knowing that it is coming from a place of love from inside me. When I say no, it is not because I don't care. It is because I do care. It is because I do care that what I do honours who I am and the mission that God created me for.
[00:27:31] LIVING FROM THE INSIDE OUT
So, what I've described in here, is what I describe as "living from the inside out", right. Living, not just in reaction to the situation, circumstances and needs that come up in the external layer of our life. Living, not just in reaction to the emotions that we may feel that are triggered by the external events – but making that journey down into the core of ourselves, reconnecting with our true identity,
you know, the core that we have – as it becomes more whole in our healing journey. And then coming back out, anchored in that true identity to look at the request and the situations that demand our response, and responding from that place of stability – that place of security, that place of freedom of choice.
That is what I mean by living from the inside out. If this is unfamiliar to you, I first described what living from the inside out is in episodes four and five of this podcast. And I invite you to listen to those episodes if you haven't. And they're also always good episodes to revisit, because this is very foundational.
This process of living from the inside out is also the fundamental framework and process that I use in my teaching and coaching to help people begin to discover who they are, apart from their achievements and failures, and also to begin to help them to differentiate between these layers of life.
Right, because most of the time we are just very aware of what's happening on the outer layer of our life. And we're just having knee-jerk reactions to that. And when we are living out of wounds and just reacting out of our need to run away from shame, when it's triggered – we are living on the surface. We can't – we can't be brave, we can't be authentic, right.
So, living from the inside out is what we need to be able to live with integrity, right – apart from just how others view us. If you are interested in learning more about living from the inside out, or if you would like to actually experience being facilitated through this process by me in particular, and see how this can impact the way you lead your life – whether at home or at work or in your faith community or ministry –
– I actually will be teaching a course called A Leader's Spirituality. I teach this course through the Catholic Leadership Centre in Singapore, in September to October this year, in 2022. It's one of the best ways to be introduced to living from the inside out with exercises and praxis facilitated by me. So, if you're interested, check the show notes for this episode, I will be putting a link to that course where you can find out more about it.
Being bound by our shame is one of the hardest things to deal with in any leadership context. Okay, if you're a leader in any context, you will know that being bound by shame will often tempt us to make decisions based on what would help us avoid the pain of our shame, rather than being able to freely, and you know, with serenity lead with courage and clear-sightedness.
If we're bound by shame, it's hard for us to be courageous. It's hard for us to see things clearly, because all we want to do is survive. Now, that is true in our role, even as parents at home, right – at work, and definitely, definitely very much so in our religious communities and our churches.
[00:31:17] PRAXIS: LISTEN. PONDER. ACT.
So, here are the Praxis prompts for today. One: Listen – as you listened to this episode, what really struck you? Two: Ponder – how does shame show up in your life? How does shame show up in your life?
Three: Act – think of one concrete act you can take towards building a more secure relationship with your inner self. For example, you could learn more through reading, listening to podcasts or watching videos about, you know, becoming more attuned to yourself, about healing.
But if you have already been learning more about this whole, you know, healing journey for a while, without actually kind of really taking action to practice what you're, you know, reading about or listening to, I invite you to take that step, to look for someone trained in this area to guide and companion you on this journey. You can refer to my podcast episode on do I need counselling, or a spiritual direction, or both?
I talk a little bit about how, or when you might want to find someone to help you along in this journey. And we generally would need more than one source of assistance, even in terms of professional assistance. It may not all have to happen at the same time. So, that episode may help you to decide which is the kind of guide that you need to connect with first, at this point, at this season in your journey.
And as part of this next step, you could also consider joining me in A Leader's Spirituality. I invite you to find out more about it and consider if it might suit you. Okay, and if you have any questions about it, please send me a direct message through any of my social media accounts or my website. You can find the necessary links in the show notes. Now, the other way, if you wished for me to engage you in making this journey – you know, of living from the inside out – would be through coaching.
But my coaching offer is very specific. There's a program that I have built. And in another episode and another future episode, maybe I will talk a bit more about what that coaching program is and you know, which part of that interior journey is it really effective for. Right, so, I really believe that the best tools are not enough.
You know, just because something is a really good tool, or someone's really good at doing something, it may not help you unless it is also coming at the right time and meeting you at the right place in your journey. Okay, so, I want to help anyone who is considering seeking me out – whether it's a course that I'm teaching, but especially for the coaching work, which goes in depth, which goes in depth.
It is very effective if it is the right fit for you. I have been having an amazing time journeying with the clients who have signed up for my clarity package, but I also want to make sure that it's coming at the right place and season in your life so that you can get the greatest mileage from it, all right? So, okay. That's it for this episode. Thank you so much for listening. Until the next time!
Thank you for listening to Becoming Me, where new episodes drop every first and third Wednesdays of the month. Remember, the most important thing about making this journey is to keep taking steps in the right direction. No matter how small those steps might be, and no matter where you might be in your life right now, it is always possible to begin.
The world would be a poorer place without you becoming more fully alive. Don't forget to visit my website at becomingmepodcast.com and to subscribe to my newsletter as well as to this podcast. Until the next episode, Happy becoming!