Letting Go of Shame by Reframing My Story

I recall a personal experience from when I was a boy. I was about 14 years of age. A group of us were playing basketball in the backyard of our neighbors. Jeff, the neighbor boy, got really mad about something and ran into his house. The game broke up and I walked over to our front yard where a number of neighborhood kids were playing and some of our mothers visiting. Suddenly, I was tackled from behind. Jeff was on me slugging away. I grabbed his arms and wrestled him off of me. In a few seconds I was on top of him. And with everyone in the neighborhood watching, I jumped up and ran into the house.

Reframing My Story

For years I recalled that experience with embarrassment. I’d been afraid to fight him. I was chicken and I carried the humiliation of that experience and that label in the back of my mind for many years. Until one day a friend heard me tell the experience and said, “No, you got off him not because you were afraid but you didn’t want to hurt him. You couldn’t pound on the face of another kid. It wasn’t in you.”

Wow. The realization was shocking. He was right. I’d been telling myself the wrong story all these years, a story that didn’t serve me. He helped me understand another story, a story that helped me feel good about myself and let go of the shame of this incident.

A Process for Reframing

Let me use this example to outline a few steps to change our stories from a harmful and disempowering narrative to something empowering and uplifting.

Step One: Awareness

It starts with awareness. You have to become aware that you’re telling a story. Sometimes we’re so caught up in the story that we don’t even recognize it as a story. We think we’re describing the ways things are and not the way we’ve made them up to be.

Step Two: Recognize the Story

Next, you recognize that the story is just that, a story, a point of view and not the truth, whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Step Three: Ownership

Now you take ownership of the story by recognizing yourself as the storyteller. You are the one that is telling the story. It seems simple but by recognizing this you can also realize that you can tell the story in a different way.

Step Four: Consequences

The next step is to look at the consequences of the way you are currently telling the story. Is it helpful? Empowering? Is it consistent with your vision and who you want to be?

Step Five: Reframe the Story

And finally, you want to reframe the story or begin to construct a new story-a story that will uplift and empower you to let go of shame rather than a story that tears you down.

Make it Believable

The purpose of this process is not to deny reality or construct a pretend life. In fact, the new story needs to be something you can truly believe. You have to see the evidence. I’m not suggesting that your story has to be idyllic or happily ever after. Maybe hard things have happened in your past. But it does need to be better than a story that leaves you feeling grungy or ashamed. The purpose of this process is to tell yourself stories that will help you let go of shame or other grungy feelings and move you forward in a more enlightened and powerful way.

What’s Your Story?

It is so easy to be pulled into a negative story, a story based on shame. We do it automatically. Your dad ran out on you when you were little. What story do you tell yourself? You were physically or sexually abused or bullied as a child. What story do you tell? Your spouse or lover up and left you. What story do you tell? You got laid off from your last job. What story do you tell? You have a child who is struggling. What story do you tell? Even little things. You get a flat tire on the way to work. What story do you tell? The point is not to tell yourself something unbelievable. It is to take ownership of your story.

We can change our story as we look back at the past. Just because an event or time period is over does not mean the story is cast in stone. We get to decide what it means. We can literally rewrite our history and as we do so we let go of shame and other negative feelings that are holding us back.

Please tell me your story. Share your thoughts in your journey of healing.


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