There is a difference between guilt and shame. Guilt is feeling bad about what you’ve done, while shame is feeling bad about who you are. Guilt is situation specific; shame more wholly about who you are at your core. Guilt can be eased by taking responsibility, making amends, and expressing remorse. Shame is more insidious; it eats at the core of who we believe we are.
I’ve had my share of feeling shame about myself. I’ve come to the realization that it can be helpful to create a ritualized releasing of these beliefs.
This idea isn’t new. I borrowed different ideas to make releasing shame feel intentional and important; to draw a line between old and new.
1. Think about something you’d like to accomplish, or times where you feel yourself shrinking away from situations. Take note of the immediate thoughts and feelings that pop up. Maybe they sound like, ‘I’m so stupid’ or ‘I can’t do that’ or ‘I’ll never find someone.’
2. Tease out the specific thoughts and feelings, write each one of them down on a separate scrap of paper, and really think about them. Where do these beliefs about yourself come from? A teacher years ago making a comment in front of the whole class? A ‘friend’ pointing out a weakness you’re well aware of? The feeling of a parent’s underlying disapproval and disappointment? Do you feel your face burn with embarrassment and shame? This can feel as real now as it did then. Maybe these beliefs are more ambiguous for you; just thoughts and feelings about not feeling good enough. Still write these all down.
3. Take each scrap and really look at each belief. How are these continuing to serve you? Are they true about who you are, or are they true about a single event?
4. Challenge each thought, belief, and feeling. Think of specific situations that disproves each belief.
5. Now take a sheet of paper and write a story about letting all these beliefs go. Write how they no longer help you. How they hold you back and stand in the way of you doing what you’d like to do and being who’d you like to be. Your story should include something about placing all these beliefs onto the scraps of paper and letting them go.
5. Find a safe, contained, and legal place to light a fire. Stand in front of the fire, feeling the heat. Read aloud the story you wrote about every negative belief you’re holding onto.
6. Finally, toss the story and all the scraps into the fire.
As you do this, truly let these beliefs go. They no longer belong to you. They no longer have power over you. They are no longer a part of who you are. Feel the heat. Watch the flames burn the pages; burn the beliefs. Watch the flames burn the old. Watch the smoke trail up into the sky and float away from you. Watch the old beliefs fly away. Feel the shame and negative beliefs releasing from you into the air.
Now you’re ready to do what you want to do and become who you want to become!