Self Worth & Shame • Kimberly Johnson
We can go on the merry-go-round of trying to raise our self-esteem and self-worth, and try to feel better about ourselves. But all the affirmations in the world won’t help without really looking into the dark closet of shame. In that closet lives the shadow skeletons- sex and money. In my practice, I help women unshame their sexuality. Often times, as a result, they finding themselves standing up for themselves, recognizing their worth, and standing in it- in money, career, and relationship.
Shame is so pervasive and so elusive, that many times we don’t even know when it is operant.
It’s sneaky. Shame can hide from us, even in our own psyches. When I ask friends if they feel shame, they look at me like I'm crazy and shake their heads.
Well, how about this:
Do you ever feel bad that you didn't return an email? Does it haunt you a little bit? Do you turn it over again and again in your mind? And as time goes on, maybe you continue avoiding sending the email or seeing the person because you feel bad?
That nagging feeling that you did something wrong, that something is wrong with you. Shame steals from our self-worth and our sense of belonging in the world. It shows up in our consciousness as a mind-boggling maze of “should's” and “shouldn’ts.” Shame fills the gap between who we are and who we imagine we think we should be, keeping us quiet.
Shame enters the sexual realm, the same way it infiltrates everyday interactions. We live in a society that shrouds sex in secrecy, while at the same time selling us a glossier, "sexier," plasticized version of it. There are so many should's and supposed-to's in our cultural idea of sex. We're supposed to want sex all the time. We're supposed to only want sex with one partner. We're supposed to be wet, hard, willing and wanton. We're supposed to have sex that follows a linear script: you touch here, I touch there, we insert the penis in the vagina, he ejaculates, and it's over. We're supposed to make certain faces and moan a certain way.
What if your sexuality doesn't look like this? Do you judge yourself against this conditioned standard? What if your desires are different? Do you go into an internal dialogue of, "What's wrong with me? Why don't I like this? Why don’t I want to have sex 2-3 times per week? Why don't I want to have the kind of sex that everyone else is having?"
We have been shown one version of sex that happens to follow a male arousal trajectory. Because this is all that we have seen, we imagine that if it is not working for us—meaning we are not THAT into it, or it’s painful, or we like the part better when it is over than when we are actually doing it—that it must be something that is wrong with us, rather than imagining that we could change HOW we are doing and living sex.
Shame gets in the way. Shame keeps us from talking, keeps us from co-creating new, novel, exciting sexual experiences with our lovers. Shame can keep us from having the sex we want, or any sex at all. Shame, by its very nature, keeps us silent. It keeps us believing that we are broken, that we are different, and that we don't belong.
So how do we get rid of shame, and come back to our inherent worth?
The first step in healing shame is acknowledging that we have shame in the first place
As I said, many times, shame is insidious, and we don’t even notice that we are going into shame. I find that I feel shame in my body. It feels like a black cloud settling over me, a feeling of retraction in my throat. A friend reports she feels as though she is shrinking backwards into her chest and solar plexus, as though she were physically getting smaller.
You might also notice words in your mind that tell you that you *should* be doing things in a different way, or that if you weren’t broken, you’d feel differently. These are all indicators that we are feeling shame.
Next, state—out loud—that you are feeling shame
Tell a loving friend or partner. This is a way of revealing shame, and that’s how we work with shame—to take it out of the shadows, where it thrives, we gently bring it out into the light, where it can diffuse and dissipate. Simply notice, state what you’re feeling, and if you feel like you’re going into a fight, flight or freeze response, take deep breaths, orient by taking a look around the room and really seeing it, and take a walk if necessary. You want to ease yourself in, and be gentle with yourself when working with shame.
Because we have so much shame around bodies in our culture, one way to shed shame is to take off your clothes, slowly, in front of a mirror, or in front of a partner. Make sure not to rush the process. There is something truly intimate in shedding your clothing, one item at a time, and being seen in the act. As you undress, give voice to your thoughts and body sensations.
Have a conversation
Sit with someone and ask about their relationship to shame and how that's influencing their sexuality. Perhaps shame makes them feel like they have to have sex with the lights off, or maybe it moves them in the opposite direction—they think they have to be very sexual, even when they’re not feeling it, to get approval from a lover. Explore how shame bubbles up for each of you in sexual interactions, and meet each other with loving presence.
You belong, and you’re worthy
To truly shake free from the shackles of shame, we remember that we're human, and that we're not alone. So many other people are having the same experience we're having: whether we are in a new group and anticipating that we won't belong, or whether we've just shared something deep, and are feeling our self-critic begin to attack us. Remember that in any given room, other people are experiencing this too. Give yourself permission to be human.
When you step out from under the veil of shame, you will have more freedom, more authenticity and the possibility for more genuine connection. Uninhibited self-expression and freedom are the keys to satisfying, unexpected, mind and spirit-expanding sex.