Let Go of Shame
How to Move Past Feelings of Regret
By December 17 117
Gary McClain, PhD, is a therapist and educator who works primarily with individuals living with chronic medical conditions, as well as their families and caregivers. He has written extensively on health and body-mind-spirit topics, including a regular column on mental health in HIV Plus magazine. He maintains a website, JustGotDiangosed.com, with information and inspiration for newly-diagnosed patients.
Is your HIV diagnosis stirring up feelings of shame? If so, you may be feeling beaten up by a voice in your head that constantly reminds you that you “should have,” ”shouldn’t have” or “don’t deserve?”
It is only human to feel shameful about things we have done in the past that we regret, or wish we had done differently. But if left unresolved, shame becomes a never-ending kick to your self-esteem and keeps you stuck in self-criticism and disempowered when it’s time to move forward with your life.
If you’re hearing that voice of shame from time to time — or all the time —then it’s time to do something about it. Here’s how to start loosening the grip that shame may have on your life.
Moving Past Feelings of Shame
Get support. If you are struggling with feelings of shame, don’t isolate yourself. Sit down with someone you trust — an objective friend or a trained listener — and talk about any shame you may be feeling along with the guilt, anger and fear that go along with it. Stop fighting these uncomfortable feelings and they will become less powerful. And don’t punish yourself by thinking that you should suffer in silence.
Accept the past. You can’t go into instant replay or otherwise change something that can’t be undone. This applies to any number of truths about yourself, including your HIV status. Spending time wishing things were different will only keep you stuck in the past. We pick ourselves up and move on. Move your attention from the rear view mirror to what’s possible in the present moment. As that old Beatles song goes, "let it be."
Argue back. When you start to hear your inner voices gearing up to play the shame game, go on the offensive by reminding yourself that the past is past, and do a review of what’s working well in your life right now. You are doing the best you can for yourself, right now, and that’s what’s really important. Onward and upward. Go out and do something positive for yourself.
Practice compassion. If you are walking around with a lot of self-blame, chances are you are also directing this blame toward others. Show some compassion toward yourself. You’re human. And other people are, too. If you can show yourself a lot of self-love, then it becomes easier to let other people be who they are.
Commit to staying healthy. Paying attention to your self-care, including diet and exercise, is a great way to get ready for the future. This includes protecting yourself and others from further exposure to HIV. If you have anything going on in your life that you feel might place you at risk — substance abuse or sexual addiction, for example — consider seeking help from a professional.
Face forward. Each and every day, ask yourself: What can I do to make this the best day possible? Spend time every day showing compassion to yourself and others. Do something that feeds your mind, your soul, contributes to your physical well being, or benefits those around you.
Leave the shame behind and free yourself up for the future.