Leading shame researcher Brené Brown makes an important distinction between shame and guilt.
“Based on my research and the research of other shame researchers … I believe that guilt is adaptive and helpful — it’s holding something we’ve done or failed to do up against our values and feeling psychological discomfort. I define shame as the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we’re flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging — something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection.”
We’re all affected by this shameful cultural legacy, no matter how liberated we think we are.
The good news is that it’s possible to free yourself from the invisible web of sexual shame that holds you back. It takes time and persistence, but the results are well worth it. Once you identify the ways that shame is holding you back, you can start undoing its power over you and start feeling more authentic and free in your sex life. Here are five steps to get you started:
1. Identify the shame message and where it came from.
Maybe you’ve always fantasized about being spanked, but think it means you’re a pervert. Maybe you don’t want your lover to see your naked thighs. Maybe you think wearing a sexydress makes you look cheap. Whenever you notice shame seeping over you, identify it for what it is. Notice the “if-then” connection. If you do a specific thing, then you’ll be judged, rejected or deemed unlovable.
Anytime you feel this message holding you back, name it specifically and then think about where you learned this. Was it from culture at large? Your parents? Your church? A past lover? Name it and take a step back.
2. Decide whether your agree with it or not.
Once you name the shame-based message, you can decide if you authentically agree with it. Do you think desiring a sensual spanking makes you a bad person? Are your thighs really so monstrous? Would you actually feel great in that sexy dress? Think about your own values andsee where the shame fits into your own authentic beliefs.
Most of the time, these messages aren’t our own beliefs but something we’ve inherited from an outside source. With this perspective, you can choose to shed the shame messages and become more authentic.
3. Change the story.
When you decide to shed the shame, you have to start changing the story you tell yourself. Next time you’re confronted with shame, notice it and then tell yourself a more positive message. Instead of “Don’t let him see your thighs” shift your internal monologue to “My body is beautiful and worthy of pleasure!”
Instead of “If I wear this dress people will think I’m a slut,” put on the dress and think, “I love the way this dress makes me feel and I’m going to go to the party feeling confident!” It will take repetition to shift your emotional patterns, but it will happen over time.
Think of it like flipping a switch in your brain to send your brain train down a different track. It may feel rusty and forced at first, but eventually it will become your natural response and you’ll feel shame loosening its grip.
4. Notice (and honor) your body
As you go beyond your comfort limits and start embracing more authentic sexual expression, take a moment to check in and notice how your body feels. Get out of your head and into your hips. How does it feel to wear that flirty dress? What does it feel like to allow your lover’s hand glide along your sensitive thighs?
Once you dare to ask your lover for a spanking, pay full attention to how it feels to receive your lover’s touch. Feel the pleasure available to you and let your physical sensations guide you toward what you enjoy and what you crave more of.
5. Don’t poison others with shame.
In order to free us all from shame, we must change our sexual culture as a whole. Participate in this shift by refusing to shame others. Anytime you notice yourself judging someone or making a joke out of shaming another person, stop yourself.
Also, call your friends out when they shame other people. Notice how often it happens: “I can’t believe that woman dressed that way, what a whore,” or “He’s driving that Hummer to make up for his small dick,” or “What kind of woman dates a younger man like that?” You’ll be amazed at how often these thoughts and conversations happen once you start to notice.