Are there "negative tapes" that play in your head, telling you that you are not smart enough, or pretty enough, or funny enough, or rich enough, or tall enough, or whatever? I'd be willing to bet there are. After all, even the most emotionally and psychologically well-adjusted people have a "shitty committee" that lives between their ears and tells them (either occasionally or almost continually) that they're defective, unworthy, unlovable, not good enough, and just plain bad.
Nearly always, these "shame tapes" are developed in childhood — the result of inconsistent, neglectful, and/or abusive caregivers, along with being teased, being bullied, feeling different, failing at something that seems important (even if it's really unimportant), etc. Of course, some people have it a lot worse than others, and shame tends to run deeper and to be more destructive for those individuals.
Identify your shame.
What is your shame? What are the negative tapes that play in your head? What do they tell you about who and what you are? In what ways do these messages hold you back? Are you less successful at work, less open in relationships, less financially secure? Do you feel depressed or anxious or constantly angry? Do you keep important secrets? Do you think the needs of others are more important than your own? Do you feel "less than" and not good enough in everything you do?
Debunk your shame.
Once you've identified the shame tapes playing in your head, you can address your shame in ways that reduce its power (its ability to hold you back in life). My colleague, Dr. Brené Brown, refers to this as developing shame resilience. This process involves reaching out to supportive others, sharing your story, and experiencing empathy. In other words, once you've identified your shame, you need to talk about it with people who care about you, allowing them to walk through and experience your shame with you. You can do this with your therapist, a support group, your mom, your sister, you best friend, your mate, or your pastor, just to name a few.
You have to talk about your shame! In fact, after a great deal of research, one of Dr. Brown's most important findings (mirroring the conclusions of several previous studies) is that not discussing a shaming event and the feelings it evokes can be more damaging than the actual event. Conversely, when people talk about their most difficult experiences and feelings with empathetic and supportive others they almost always feel better, even if they do this long after the event took place. Their anxiety and depression levels decrease, their shame disappears, and their lives improve.
Of course, talking about shame is not easy. The natural reaction to shame is to hide it. So most people isolate their shame and keep it secret. They push it down into the dark recesses of their soul, where it festers and tells them that they don't deserve to be happy, to be loved, or to succeed. Over time these messages become ingrained, breeding depression, addiction, codependency, bad behavior, and all sorts of other negative life issues — until the shame is discussed and destroyed.
Shame is like a vampire. It thrives in darkness; it dies in the light. Whenever, wherever, and however shame occurs, talking about it reduces its power, helping you progress from "I am bad" to "something bad happened." And that is a very big and extremely positive shift in self-perception. When you become shame resilient in this way, your negative self-beliefs will no longer hold you back. By getting your darkest secrets out in the open, you're free to live your life in the light.