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  • Writer's pictureBrandilyn Hallcroft

Transforming Shame into Self-Compassion: A Personal Story and Guide

Let’s face it: we are all human and do things that we aren’t exactly proud of, and that’s okay. The problem comes into play when you hold on to the shame from your mistakes and allow it to weigh you down. Doing this leads to a path of self-destruction, abusive inner dialogue, and shaming others.

Shame can be a heavy burden and prevents us from living our lives to the fullest. It's that nagging feeling that we're not good enough, that we've made mistakes that can't be forgiven. But shame doesn't have to control us. There's a path to releasing shame and embracing self-love, and it starts with acknowledging the inner dialogue that fuels these negative emotions.

Releasing Shame

Step 1: Acknowledge Your Inner Dialogue

Emotions are sustained by our thoughts. To address shame, we must first identify the thoughts feeding it. What are you repeatedly reviewing and judging about past incidents? How have you evolved since then? By bringing these thoughts to the surface, you can dismantle their power over you. Have you learned from the past and changed the way you do things? If you have, why are you still holding onto the shame of what you did? 

My Personal Story of Shame

When I was 16-17 years old, I was hanging out with someone who wasn’t my best influence. She was my best friend; she introduced me to shoplifting. Although I was raised to know that stealing wasn’t just immoral but also illegal, I did it anyway. Looking back, I chose to do it because I got things I couldn’t afford, but there was also a bit of a rush in getting away with something.

My friend and I would go to stores at least every month and take different things: clothing, home decor, accessories, whatever we wanted. One day, we were in a shopping mall, and I had a gut feeling that we shouldn’t steal anything. I didn’t, but she did, even though I told her I had a bad feeling. She was all over the place; I kept telling her we needed to leave, but she wouldn’t listen. She was finally done, and we walked out of the store. I had parked about 500 feet from the exit of that store, but I didn’t want to walk through the mall to get to my car. So we walked fast through the parking lot to get to my car; the whole time that we walked back, she was telling me I was freaking out over nothing, but I ignored her and just kept walking.

When we got to my car, we had bags we had used for stealing. They were store bags with shoe boxes in them that we put the clothing into. I opened up the hatchback of my car to throw the bags into the back; she walked over to the passenger side as I shut the hatchback. I had to take a couple of steps back to shut it, and as I did, I looked up to the right, and there was a man in the store about 100 feet from me that I saw in the store. I shouted, “Shit, get in the car!” I shut the back quickly, jumped in the car, and locked the doors. I started to reverse to get out of the parking space. The man began to run towards my car; I hit a car behind me while reversing, and he ran in front of my car with his hands up, yelling, “Stop the car.” my friend was sitting next to me yelling, “GO, GO, GO!” I was panicking, and for some silly reason, I cracked the window and said, “What?” to the man; he shouted, “Stop the car” again. Without giving it any thought, I hit the gas, he jumped out of the way, and I sped off. 

We were stupid kids; I had the most guilty conscience about what had happened. My mom worked part-time at the store where it all happened. Rumors started going around school that there were still photos of us in the breakroom in the store. There was a girl who worked at the store, and she was the one telling people about it. I didn’t know if it was true or if the friend I was with was telling people about what we did. I remember feeling sick about the whole thing, and I promised myself I would never steal again.

A month passed, we thought we got away with it. I wasn’t hanging out with that friend anymore; I started distancing myself from her. I started a new job at Staples. On my first day at work, I went home to have lunch, and my mom walked in with my stepfather. I could tell she was mad. She said, “Do you have something to tell me about?” I was a pretty wild teenager, and there were many things I was doing that I could have been in trouble for at that time; I had a feeling she was referring to the shoplifting, but I responded with, “I don’t know.” She walked towards me, got in my face with the mean mom look, and said, “How about you stealing from the store I work at!” BUSTED. She told me to go upstairs and get the clothes I stole. Stupid me, I responded, “I didn’t steal anything that day.” My mom’s eyes looked like they would pop out of her head when she responded, “That day! How many times did you steal? Get everything that you ever stole, then!” I went upstairs to gather everything I had stolen from that store before. She called my job and told them I had a family emergency and wouldn’t return after lunch. 

As we drove to the mall, my mom was so angry at me, rightfully so. I remember her just yelling the whole way, telling me how ashamed she was of me and how embarrassing it was for her to walk into her job and see photos of her daughter on the wall as someone they were looking for. I cried. I was ashamed of myself, and I truly felt bad for what I had done; I knew it wasn’t the right thing to do. 

We got to the store; I confessed everything to the head of security. He told me they had already gone to my friend's house two days prior but wanted to talk to my mom about what I had done before bringing me in. He told me my friend had said it was all me who did it, and she did nothing; she was just with me. I thought he was saying that to get me to turn on her, but I didn’t tell him anything about what she did; I only talked about myself. I was hurt by the possibility that my friend ratted me out, which drove a further wedge between us.

I ended up getting charged with grand theft, second-degree robbery, hit and run, and assault with a deadly weapon, the weapon being my car as I drove off, causing the security to jump out of the way to prevent getting run over. I was lucky to be a minor then; my parents got me a good lawyer. I got community service, probation; some charges dropped, and some fees. Afterward, the case was sealed and the mistake didn’t go on my permanent record. I did, however, carry the shame of what I did for a long time. 

Step 2: Rewind and Reflect

Go back to the moment when you first felt the shame and put yourself in that place. Start from the present moment and work backward, remembering what you felt and how you perceived the world then. Observe the situation and try to understand it from your younger self's point of view. This exercise allows you to gain perspective and compassion for yourself. Why do you think what you did is shameful? Are these your true feelings and beliefs, or did they come from an outside source, such as your parents or a religious group?

When I looked back on the shame I had for shoplifting, I felt horrible about myself for years. I would call myself a loser, and it was a contributor to the path of self-destruction that I was on for the majority of my twenties. I was raised going to church youth group, my dad was a police officer, and what a terrible thing to do to my mom, being that she worked at that store. I never stole a single thing after that. There have been times at stores when something was left in the cart, and I realized I didn’t pay for it, so I went back into the store, explained what happened, and paid for the item.

Step 3: Affirm Your Worth

While rewind mode, counter the shame with affirmations acknowledging your growth and self-worth. Remind yourself that your level of awareness was lower, you were doing the best you could at the time, and you've learned and changed since then. Create loving affirmations that resonate with you and your specific situation.

Once I realized I wasn’t the person that I was when I was 17, I started to let go of the shame I was carrying from it. I began to understand how it was carrying something with me that was damaging to me for no reason. I was a kid; I had some other problems going on in my life that led me to make bad choices for myself. There was no reason for me to call myself names and beat myself up over something that happened in the past.

Step 4: Feel the Pain and Let it Go of Shame

Allow yourself to feel the emotions associated with the shameful incident. Don't run from the pain; instead, sit with it and let it wash over you. Remember, emotions are like waves—they may feel overwhelming but eventually pass. You are the ocean, vast and capable of containing these emotions.

Healing shame with the ocean

I remember the moment I started feeling better about my past mistakes. I had gotten clean, and I was reading the book “Conversations with God.” About halfway through the book, I suddenly wanted to go to the beach and run. I drove to Santa Monica, ran alongside the beach, and then up to the pier. I got to the edge of the pier, looked out into the ocean, and cried; at that moment, my life started to change. I began to feel different about myself; I was 22 years old.

I began telling people about my mistake and what I learned from it. This was healing for me; speaking about it helped me realize that it was just something I did in the past that didn’t define who I became in the future. I learned from my mistake, so why should I be ashamed? Besides, holding onto it led me to binge drinking, feeling unworthy of good things in my life, and more unhealthy choices… I made different choices than stealing, but still, I made choices that created absolute chaos in my life for years.

Step 5: Implant Love and Forgiveness

Time is an illusion, and the present moment holds all points in time. Instead of dwelling on destructive emotions, replace them with love and forgiveness. Use a forgiveness prayer or mantra, repeating phrases like "I'm sorry," "Please forgive me," "Thank you," and "I love you." Keep repeating until you feel a shift in your energy.

I was stuck for a long time, and even though I started to forgive myself at the age of 22, it took another five years to forgive myself completely. The time it takes to forgive equals when you hold onto the shame; at least, that was what it was for me. I was still self-destructive during this time. However, I was slowly beginning to make better choices for my life. I’m at a point now where the practice of letting go of shame when I make an unhealthy choice for myself is a faster process. I don’t hold on to things like that anymore. I still make mistakes, just not as many. I address, journal about, and move on when I make mistakes. I have learned how to break down my thoughts, figure out why I do something destructive to myself and release. 

Step 6: Follow Up and Close the Energy Loop

If the shame involves someone else, consider writing a letter to that person expressing your feelings and asking for forgiveness. You don't have to send the letter; writing it can be cathartic. You can also meditate and ask for forgiveness from a higher power or the universe. This step helps close the energy loop and complete the healing process.

I have talked to both parents about what I did back then. My mom and I laugh about it now. I laughed with my dad about it when he was alive. Not because what I did was funny but because of the absurdity of the whole event. It’s one of those SMH moments where you say, “I can’t believe I did that.” 

Step 7: Monitor Your Thoughts and Rewire Your Brain

Releasing shame is an ongoing process that requires awareness. Notice when thoughts about the healed incident arise, and gently remind yourself that you've already processed and released those emotions. Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and reaffirm your growth and self-love. With time and practice, your brain will rewire, focusing on positivity, love, and kindness.

I tell one of my stories about the shame I carried along with the steps in this blog as an example for others to learn from me, my choices, and where I have become. I look at my life now and am proud of who I became. I am kind, giving, loving, funny, and smart. I am on a mission to help others with their growth. This is just one of my stories; more to be told. This one fits the topic of shame so well that I wanted to share it so the process can show someone else how to break things down and release their shame.

Embarking on the journey to release shame and embrace self-love is courageous. It requires vulnerability, patience, and self-compassion. But the rewards are immeasurable. By shedding the weight of shame, you open yourself up to a life of greater joy, authenticity, and fulfillment. Remember, you are worthy of love and forgiveness from yourself and others. You can change your life it doesn’t matter what you did in the past. Everyone makes mistakes; the people who have the courage to own those mistakes win.


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