According to Brené Brown, PhD and shame researcher, "Shame is the most powerful, master emotion. It’s the fear that we’re not good enough. Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change."
As a highly sexual, bisexual, and kinkster woman, I have to deal with a lot of shame thrown at me by the media, our patriarchal culture, and sometimes even other people in my life. (Not that I think they mean it - they're probably just repeating what they hear around them.)
Shame is very powerful. Shame can make us shrink inside, give up on things we love, and feel a little less confident and self-loving. More particularly, sexual shame can disconnect us from our bodies and from authentic pleasure by forcing us to conform to impossible norms and ideals, and by telling us that the way we experience pleasure and intimacy is "wrong."
How do you fight this shame? If it's so pervasive, how can we live without it? Here are a few practical ways you can confront shame and free yourself from it.
Shame has even more power when it's acting anonymously. Living alone with shame that you cannot name or express is very destructive to your well-being. This is why naming your shame is often the first step toward freedom.
Of course, the best option would be to share your shame with someone you trust. That isn't always possible, so a good first step is to write or talk out loud to yourself. I'm a writer myself (obviously), so that would be my choice. However, don't underestimate the power of speaking out loud.
Start with the words "I am ashamed of..." Unexpressed, silent emotions are the most dangerous and destructive, so give it air by speaking it out loud or writing it down. This is a hard exercise, but confronting shame can help you break free of it.
Explore Your Feelings
Once you've named your shame, you can start exploring the other feelings associated with it. Does your sexual shame make you afraid of engaging sexually with other people? Does it force you to suppress desires you have, or does it tell you to accept things that you would otherwise not consent to?
Shame can also make us feel angry at the people who make us feel ashamed. Identifying anger can help us re-evaluate our relationships, or at least figure out that something needs fixing.
Share It With Others
At the core of shame is the message: "I'm not good enough." It makes you feel inadequate and insufficient, and as if the love of others is conditional on you acting a certain way. To counter this, you need to share your shame with someone who will love you and appreciate you anyway. In therapy talk, we call this "unconditional positive regard." This is an attitude towards others that expresses that a person is worthy of love and appreciation, no matter what.
A trusted friend or partner can be the source of that unconditional positive regard, but sometimes these are the very people who are shaming us. In this case, a therapist or counselor can help. Online support forums and chat rooms can also provide an outlet for expressing our shame.
In short, you need to find a friendly listener, someone who will say "you are worthy" no matter what.
Because you are!
Disconnect Your Shame From Your Identity
One of the pernicious things about shame is that it attaches to our identity. It says "You are a bad person." Shame is a parasite. It's not who you are; it's just sucking up your life energy, making you feel like its presence is inevitable.
However, parasites do not survive long outside their host. The same goes for shame: if you disconnect it from your identity, it will die very quickly.
When we attach our identity to what others think of us, we become vulnerable to judging ourselves through external eyes. If someone doesn't like the way you do oral sex, you think you're just a terrible lover. If someone doesn't accept your sexual or gender orientation, you think you're a broken, unworthy person.
Disconnecting your shame from your identity means having an internal system of judgement that isn't dependent on what others around you think. It means accepting yourself for who you are and acting in harmony with your needs, values and beliefs.
Being shameless doesn't mean doing whatever to whoever without caring for their well-being. It means being authentically, unapologetically, who you are. It means acting in accordance with your values, beliefs, and identity. Do not let the shaming judgements of others distract you from that.
Letting go of sexual shame doesn't happen overnight. It takes a lot of hard work on your part. It's a very personal journey. But it's one worth taking.