We all suffer feelings of inadequacy at some point in our lives. For some of us, this sense of inadequacy has become such an opposing force in our lives that it can prevent us from moving forward and achieving our goals.
On some level, we have all felt that we were not "good enough," and for some of us, we become paralyzed at the thought of failure. No one is exempt from these feelings, and even those who become wildly successful face these burdens (in some cases, more than the average person).
A few years ago, I happened upon a book titled You Are Good Enough by Dr. Robert J. Furey. Reading it served as my much-needed introduction to the concept of shame.
Referred to by the author as a "hidden epidemic," shame is ultimately defined as:
When we are ashamed, we feel a great distance between the person we perceive ourselves to be and the person we wish we were. This can ultimately lead to a desire to conceal ourselves because we secretly hate who we are.
LEVELS OF SHAME
This is a severe issue because attempting to conceal ourselves makes intimacy difficult, if not impossible. Ultimately, Dr. Furey describes three different levels of shame:
1. Mild Shame: Often exhibited in competitive people who tend to be notoriously tough on themselves. They draw comparisons between themselves and others. These comparisons lead to an increase in one's perception of their own flaws when one feels that they are not measuring up; this in turn causes them to retreat and hide.
2. Moderate Shame: Occurs when mild shame is extended and the pain resulting is more significant than mild shame. Although those who suffer from moderate shame possess a feeling of general hope, it is more the thought that things could be worse amidst a flood of emotions that can cause those afflicted to feel stuck in their pain more than those who suffer from mild shame.
3. Severe Shame: The negative thoughts and feelings that one faces are unbearable, and a person's everyday life becomes almost impossible to navigate. Finding hope can feel beyond possibility for those afflicted by severe shame.
FAILURE & SHAME
I believe that a fear of failure is what ultimately leads to a feeling of shame. Some people can "shake off" their failures better than others. They learn not to care so much about what others think and are secure in being who they are.
However, the general fear of failure afflicts us all because everybody wants to feel important and needed in this world. The thought that we could fail those we aim to please is one that some people would do anything to avoid making a reality.
Shame and failure are intertwined, whether we like it or not. So then, how can we deal with failure and, by extension, the shame that inevitably follows?
1. UNDERSTAND THAT FAILURE IS INEVITABLE
No matter what we do or how hard we try to avoid it, failure comes for us all. Trying to get everything right all the time is an exercise in futility; however, this doesn't mean that we should accept failure but instead acknowledge that it is a natural part of life.
When we fail, it can lead to ugly results, some more painful or horrifying than others. I'm not recommending that we learn to become OK with failing; instead, I'm describing that we should refrain from dwelling too much on our failures and instead seek ways to move forward in life.
2. QUICKLY CHOOSE TO MOVE FORWARD
Failing can be painful, if not excruciating, but choosing to move on quickly is the healthiest way to deal with our shortcomings. Yes, the pain may persist, but we must keep moving because it is the only way to improve things for ourselves and others. The formula here is simple; staying stranded on the island of hopelessness only keeps you unhappy and leads to deeper levels of shame. Choosing to move forward is the only way to latch onto hope and learn to rise above feelings of inadequacy.
3. SURROUND YOURSELF WITH GOOD PEOPLE
Healing is not something we can (or were ever meant) to do alone. Humans were meant to live amongst one another, which becomes critical when we stumble.
Finding good people who will remain faithful to us by holding us accountable is seldom easy. Notice I said "faithful" and not "loyal." There is such a thing as blind loyalty, and we should refrain from turning to people who only allow us to dump our issues onto them.
We should instead find people who know how to strike a balance between care and candor. People who only tell us what we want to hear are not doing us any favors. Dealing with shame and failure requires that we surround ourselves with authentic people who can give us tough love when we need it and help us to own our shortcomings.
4. LEARN TO LOVE & RESPECT YOURSELF
The source of our shame can be traced back to how we perceive ourselves. Our image of who we are and who we want to be do not align. We think we are not measuring up and feel that we have failed.
Respecting and nurturing ourselves is fundamental to learning, growing, and healing. We accomplish this through routine introspection, which consists of continual self-analysis. Often, finding inner peace requires that we address the issue of who we feel we are versus who we'd like to be. This may require that our true self grows while our ideal self must become more realistic.
As we endeavor to bridge this gap, with the support of genuine friends and family, moving forward becomes much more manageable.
5. CHOOSE HOPE
Hope is a choice to accept the positive possibilities that can take place in our lives. Although we cannot control the future, we can maintain our hope for it. Just as hope is a choice, so too is hopelessness. We have to choose how we want to see the future and give ourselves the gift of hope. The people we surround ourselves with cannot hope for us, but they can help to strengthen our resolve by meeting our needs so that we become ready to accept hope when the time comes.
You Are Good Enough By Robert J. Furey, Ph. D.
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