“Shame occurs when you attach the concept of ‘wrong’ or ‘bad’ to something you feel is true about you” – Dan
Shame is the biggest barrier to self-confidence. Ultimately, confidence is just another word for being shameless.
When you deeply and genuinely believe that there is nothing ‘wrong’ with you, and you feel absolutely no compulsion to hide anything about yourself, then you are confident. When you treat fear, doubt and anger as normal human emotions, and they don’t prevent you from living authentically, then you are confident.
You are ashamed.
We all are. We all have things that we hide and moderate, both in public and by ourselves. We lie to ourselves and we lie to others, always to avoid the perceived ‘negative’ consequences of being honest and acting with integrity.
This article is for people who are ready to let all of that bullshit go, to become shameless, and build a life based on what a confident You would want you to do.
There are different types of shame, and at Brojo we came up with two categories.
Social shame is represented by humiliation and embarrassment; shameful reactions based on the perception of other people judging you.
Often you were doing something you were originally OK with, until someone else disapproved (or you assumed they did). Suddenly this OK thing becomes shameful. Take masturbation for example. Most people feel no shame when they are doing it, but if they get caught they feel deeply embarrassed.
Social shame only occurs in the presence of others, or through expecting others’ disapproval (like worrying that your internet search history might be viewed by your partner).
Social shame is a complete fiction; you made it up inside your head. Yes it’s true that some of the things you do will be genuinely disapproved of by others, but the idea that their disapproval matters, or that it is an accurate measurement, is a complete fiction.
There is no right and wrong. These are completely subjective concepts.
Take five minutes to write out all the things you can think of that would embarrass you in public. Note which ones are only embarrassing because someone else witnessed it (i.e. you have no shame doing them alone).
Common examples include:
- Being naked, and almost anything sexual
- Singing out loud
- Making mistakes
- Feeling sad or angry
Essentially, social shame is the sensation that you are not “good enough” in other peoples’ eyes, and that this is a bad thing. Mostly this is based on mind-reading –people have not even complained about your behaviour, you just assume they don’t like it.
Individual shame is the guilty feeling that comes from not living by your core values (no one else needs to know and yet there’s still guilt). This kind of shame would still occur if you were the last human left on Earth.
It is so important to know the difference between this kind of shame and social shame.
Individual shame comes from a negative self-assessment, where you feel different types of guilt about your thoughts, feelings or behaviour. This is where you lie awake at night regretting your actions, or more likely, your lack of action.
Often the problem is our social shame. We’re so busy trying to live by what we think other peoples’ standards are that we fail to live by our own. At the time of taking the action it feels right, because other people approve, but later, once we’ve had time to reflect, we realise that we let ourselves down.
One way to figure out the difference is to imagine a future version of yourself looking back at the way you are now. How would that person want you to behave right now?
Take another five minutes to write a list about all of the things you currently think, feel or do that would make your future self upset with you.
Some common examples:
- Not going for what you want, being held back by fear
- Not standing up for yourself
- Taking out your anger on others
- Treating people badly, or treating loved ones worse than you treat strangers
WHERE DOES SHAME COME FROM?
After years of discussions with people about their shame, I can safely say the top causal factors are parental and schoolyard conditioning. As you grew up you were basically trained to think things that are true about you are also wrong.
Most children get reprimanded in some way for their behaviour every single day. Often, the messaging is so vague that children feel like they are being told off for being themselves, rather than receiving feedback on a specific behaviour.
Media and movies portray an inaccurate perception of how life ‘should’ be, and how people ‘should’ act (e.g. portraying the Nice Guy as a hero and the shameless guy as evil). This leads us to get upset with reality because our expectations have been set in fiction.
Due to cognitive biases we accept shame when it comes from people we have decided are authority. Our parents, kids we looked up to in school, teachers, celebrities… the list goes on. If one of your authority figures tells you that you are ‘wrong’, then you will assume it’s true rather than questioning their subjective assessment.
We get shame from breaking the rules we have created about behaviour, which are often not based on real evidence. For example, I’ll make up a rule that it’s not OK to masturbate, based on some conversation I’ve overheard, or some conservative TV program. I’ll break this rule (often) and then feel bad about it when I’m caught. But there was no real rule in the first place – there is no true evidence that masturbation is ‘bad’ – if anything, studies show that it’s healthy and helps prevents prostate cancer in men.
Most of this shame doesn’t even come with subjective evidence from other people. Mind Reading – guessing that other people are thinking negative things about us without actually asking to verify – is the leading cause of shame in my experience. This is a completely fictional world we create where we punish ourselves for upsetting others, without any evidence that they are even upset.
We are more likely to experience shame when we have a lack of awareness about other peoples’ motives. When someone gives you advice, you think they are trying to help you, yet you never asked for their help, so why are they really doing it? We fail to question feedback we receive, and accept it as accurate.
HOW DOES SHAME AFFECT US?
At its core, shame is about secrecy and deception.
Shame leads us toward dishonesty. We hide truths about ourselves through moderating what we say and do. We start to avoid being authentic, and our actions start lacking integrity.
Shame makes us question and fail to accept reality, saying things like “I should have done this” or “I shouldn’t have done that”. We live in a fictional fantasy world and get disappointed when reality doesn’t live up to the ideal.
Because we don’t want to see ourselves as ‘dishonest’, shame creates a pattern of inception-level lying. We lie to ourselves about being dishonest, in order to overcome uncomfortable feelings of guilt.
We tell ourselves that we are “good” for sacrificing our needs to help others, even though the truth is that we are just seeking approval and disabling others from helping themselves.
We tell ourselves that we have no options or freedom, to avoid taking responsibility for our lives and making the most of what we have.
Shame is not just about what we say, it’s biggest impact is on what we do. When we believe our truth should be hidden, it has a catastrophic effect on our decision-making. We stick with jobs we hate because we’re ashamed of our strengths and won’t put them to use. We stick with unhealthy relationships because we’re ashamed of our desire to be with better people. We tolerate our boundaries being crossed because we’re ashamed of our beliefs.
Shame is the only problem you have. Everything else that you don’t enjoy in your life is a by-product of shame.
Don’t like how you’re being treated by your boss? You probably weren’t being honest with him because you’re ashamed of your boundaries.
Always having issues with your health? You probably aren’t taking care of yourself, which shows that you are ashamed of putting your health in a priority position.
Can’t find a partner? You’re probably ashamed of your attraction for others, and ashamed of being alone, which leads you to be insincere and lacking in assertiveness when socialising.
Shame is the only problem you have!
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE ‘SHAMELESS’?
Shameless is the art of not giving a fuck what other people think, combined with living by your values, so that you approve of your own behaviour. Easier said than done.
Firstly, it’s pretty hard to not give a fuck, because advice that tells you to ‘not’ do something is impossible to follow. So instead of trying not to care about other peoples’ opinions, we must look to take action in a way that would eliminate giving a fuck. We’ll look at this in the next section.
Shamelessness comes from being non-judgmental, of both yourself and others. If you judge others, all you’re doing is opening the door to judging yourself. If you see yourself as better than other people, then you will have the ability to see yourself as worse than other people too. Confident people don’t judge others or themselves; they measure behaviour instead.
Shamelessness comes from accepting of the truth about yourself. In fact, real confidence goes further than that. It’s about owning everything about yourself, including your weaknesses and failures. Shamelessness is about being unapologetic about who you are.
WHAT CAN WE DO TO BECOME MORE SHAMELESS?
So what can we do about shame? What is the real solution to “not giving a fuck” and combining that with living by your core values, in a way that would make your future self proud.
Here are my top tips (with credit to the Brojo boys for their ideas):
Reframe other people from being ‘authority’ or ‘better’ than you into just being humans, with their own flaws and insecurities like everyone else. Look for their insecurities and weaknesses to show yourself that they are not perfect. Accept their criticism as merely a subjective insecure challenge, not as a fact.
Let go of your attachment to being liked by others, allow them to judge and disapprove of you. Do things on purpose that you know other people will judge you for, and just bathe in their disapproval. Prove to yourself that you won’t die from doing it.
Look for objective evidence rather than opinion. When someone judges you, ask them for their sources of evidence, ask them to prove that their measurement system is scientifically reliable. If they can’t, tell them to go fuck themselves (you can use kinder language if you prefer). Make sure people know that you don’t want their advice or opinion unless you ask for it.
Measure your examples of behaviour separately, rather than measuring ‘yourself’ as a single entity (e.g. “I didn’t do that task correctly” instead of “I am useless”). Use journaling to track these measurements over time.
Make a decision to accept whatever it was that you thought, felt or did – the past cannot be changed but it can be learned from. There is no alternative reality, only reality. Decide to believe this.
Try to learn more about your conditioning. What irrational things have you been conditioned to believe? How can you test these?
Challenge yourself when you Mind Read and guess peoples’ motives, by actually asking them what they are thinking. You’ll be blown away by how often you are incorrect.
Choose discomfort and stand up for yourself as often as possible, even if it means losing something or someone.
Take better care of yourself – prove to yourself that you’re worthwhile by maintaining your health and relieving stress.
Replace passivity with assertiveness – go for what you want instead of waiting for it to be given to you. Indulge in making mistakes to prove to yourself that you can handle getting things wrong.
Practice empathy – understand that everyone else is hiding shame too, assume others are insecure before guessing the motives behind their behaviour. Odds are their behaviour actually has nothing to do with you, even when they’re talking about you!
Question the motives for peoples’ criticism. When someone gives you feedback you didn’t ask for, ask them why. Make them give you a good reason as to why you should listen to them when you didn’t even ask. Are they really trying to help you, or is this about them?
Spend more time with your kind of people – your tribe – by using honesty to filter out bad fits. Let people hate the real you so that people who love the real you have a space to fill.
Ask permission to help people instead of imposing help on them.
Practice honesty and acceptance as often as possible.
Learn more with the free 3X Confidence Training video series.