I sat in front of my boss, her questions on a carefully-crafted presentation seemingly endless. Shame washed over me as she probed and poked holes into the project I had poured so much time and heart into. I was unable to see her intention of making me and my work better.
I was in my grade school classmate’s party, wearing the same shorts and T-shirt I had worn to her house last week. There was literally nothing else in my closet. I gave the excuse that it was my favorite outfit. I felt shame at the obvious lie, knowing how my well-off classmates could see how much less I had compared to them.
I bought my first designer bag and felt shame instead of joy, because I wasn’t sure I deserved something so nice.
Shame felt like warmth starting at the back of my neck and pouring over my body, hot, like tears.
My shame was rooted in my self-hatred, in me feeling less-than, not-worthy, not-enough. It prevented me from taking pride in my achievements and standing up for what I believed in. I had to pretend and present a different self to the world.
My shame made me tired. It told me I needed to to do more, to try harder, to work harder, because I will never be enough.
My shame transformed me into a person I didn’t recognize—someone harder, who followed the rules and made sure that her work was perfect so it could never be questioned.
But it backfired. I didn’t like the person I became. I was too exhausted to continue doing my work. I wondered why I couldn’t be happy. It didn’t matter how much I had achieved, how many pretty things I surrounded myself with, how many affirmations I chanted.
And so I did the hard work of replacing shame with love, particularly self-love. I sat with my shame and loved that striving, hard-working, people-pleasing spirit that propelled it. I forgave myself for my failures (real and perceived). I talked to myself with kindness. I celebrated my achievements, no matter how small. And I reminded myself of my worth, of my value, how in God’s eyes, the perfection I was seeking, the acceptance I was craving for, was inside me all along.