‘How do I love myself?’

People experiencing profound amounts of shame often have a hard time altering feelings of unlovability. Part of this is due to the fact that the word ‘shame’ is in itself a shaming word, while part of it is because people can easily become ashamed of their shame. This is comparable to how some people can feel insecure about simply being insecure. In doing so one further deepens that feeling of shame, becoming their own worst enemy in the process. In wanting to desperately jolt themselves out of this cycle, many frequently raise the question of “how do I love myself?” Though tempting, this is a misleading question that distracts the person from getting to the heart of what they’re actually looking for.

The question “how do I love myself?” gets the individual(s) to lose focus on the specifics of how they are experiencing and perpetuating their shame. For example, instead of looking at the minute ways that feelings of shame come up, this question poses a much larger theoretical and daunting question that sways one’s attention. Furthermore, it gets one to focus on a question that does not have any definitive answers. Asking “how do I love myself?” is not so different from posing such an impossible question as “what’s the meaning of life?”

However, while there are no black and white answers to this impossible and tempting question there is still hope for those wanting to break out of their shame cycle. Rather than ask the question “how do I love myself?” it is actually much more useful to reformulate the question around how one’s shame manifests. For many this might entail examining destructive behaviors, negative thoughts, or commitments to troublesome patterns. For others, their shame is impossible to see to the point where they may not actually know that they are experiencing it. After all, shame very easily gets overshadowed by more mainstream clinical language and diagnoses such as anxiety or depression.

Psychotherapy can be of tremendous benefit to people in this regard by providing a safe space to focus more deeply on the issues they face. Counseling offers the hope of connecting the dots in the chaotic and impossibly confusing story that each person is living in. While there is a lot one can do on their own, therapy provides the opportunity to deeply examine one’s life with a fresh pair of eyes so as to see more clearly, and without additional judgement, how shame shows up in the nooks and crannies of one’s psyche. This then allows the opportunity for change in breaking the shaming cycle by interrupting the pattern in which it manifests.

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