If I could diagnose my self shame, it would be the negative banter that races through my mind at a mile a minute, every time I do something that falls short of the superhuman I aspire to be. Be it the way I carry myself in public, the things I did or did not contribute to a conversation, failure to articulate, not feeling intelligent enough, blushing when I’m anxious, awkwardly fumbling through my very disorganized purse, or putting on an outfit that seems too boring or unfit for my personality, the list goes on.
Sometimes, my shame is a heaviness that sits in the pit of my stomach when I drive to work in the morning, as I ask myself what I’m doing with my life. Other times, it’s a giant finger shaking in my face disapprovingly after I scarf down a bag of chips, or a ball of fear that sits on my tongue and stops me from opening up to someone. Most times, it’s an ugly and ominous thing that regenerates every time I think I’ve almost killed it, like the black mold in my shower. It tells me I need to have a specific demeanor, be a film and music expert, know certain authors and have a creative job. It tells me I will never be a conversationalist, let alone a decent socializer.
When I pick up my head to look around, or down to stare at my phone screen, I see people living their lives in ways of their choosing, and it’s more often than not a sensory overload: people dressed in suits and ties, talking business on their bluetooth headsets. Other twenty-somethings that appear beautiful and happy. Creatives sharing impressive visions on social media. Instagram vanity. Usually, my internal monologue exclaims, “Dang, they have it together,” or “Why can’t I look like that or have that life?” As if these carefully curated images of other young people are meant to dictate how I should live my life.
My self shame becomes deprecation.
In overcoming this shame, my mind always circles back to the sentiment that “we’re all human.” I repeat it again and again, until it rings dumb in my head. But it doesn’t stop me from comparing myself to others, or from fearing them. We all create pseudo hierarchies of coolness, both in person and on the web—these fortresses of intimidation we attach to one another. How can one not come head to head with self shame when the scope of our world’s expectations is literally at our fingertips with features like Instagram’s explore page?! A vortex of media, from social outings and gatherings to recipes and diets, floods our minds. It can become daunting to live life in a certain way, without looking to others as a reference point—for what’s normal, and for what we have come to put on a pedestal.
I know what I need to do, but that doesn’t make the process any simpler. Self shame is a disorder that can quarantine me off from trying new things. I hide behind my phone when I walk outside, look past people rather than smiling and making eye contact, and stand a certain way in photos because I know it will make my legs look how I want them to. There are some facts, vocabulary words, and trends I simply don’t know. Sometimes I feel like I google search my way through life.
I can’t always pinpoint where my shame begins and ends, which makes overcoming it a confusing process to sort through. Especially when it becomes a habitual emotion. The solution to conquering the shame demon looks different for everyone. For me, my solution is being tirelessly courageous in my social interactions. Conquering my hypersensitivity and developing thicker skin. Being compassionate more often than self critical. Everyday, I have to remind myself that not everyone is going to be receptive. Some people might not hold the door, validate my work, or be compatible with what I put out. Taking chances on people—whether that’s smiling at a pedestrian, viewing people as my equals, or being forward with my feelings—is the only way I’ll move past the more debilitating parts of my shame.
Shame makes us human, but it doesn’t have to control us. Moving past my shame means doing things to serve my own happiness, and not to impress others. It’s an ongoing project that is special and unique to me. What might this project look like for you?