5 Ways to Combat Shame
So as Latter-day Saints, how do we manage the feelings of shame about our constant failure to live up to our ideals? Unfortunately, a frequently used strategy is to just try harder and do more. Unfortunately, this begins a cycle that leads to burnout because we don’t understand that our ideal identity is ideal and, therefore, unattainable in this life.
However, we don’t need to throw out our ideals in order to address this vicious cycle, which many are tempted to do when they feel burned out or overwhelmed.
Here are a few suggestions to keep us out of a chronic shame spiral and the cycle of working even harder and doing more to avoid feeling ashamed or inadequate:
Become aware of your ideal identities and how they affect you.
Start exploring your ideal identities. Ask yourself, “How do I want to be perceived, and how do I not want to be perceived?” Start noticing when your wanted and unwanted ideals are triggering feelings of shame and unworthiness. Think about whether those ideals are helping you to strive towards something better or holding you back from feeling secure and content in yourself.
For example, here are some of my responses:
My ideal identities: I want to be perceived as spiritual and committed to the gospel. I want to be perceived as being a dedicated wife and mother. I want to be perceived as someone who is willing to help and to serve others.
My unwanted identities: I don’t want to be perceived as a selfish, neglectful mother. I don’t want to be perceived as putting my careers before my family. I don’t want to be perceived as lazy in my Church calling.
Understand your ideal LDS identity is unattainable, but still worth aspiring towards.
In conversations at church, community events, and with family, we can begin to speak differently about our ideal identity as Latter-day Saints. Let’s talk openly about our spiritual journeys, growth, and even our struggles instead of trying to be seen as flawless. We can find the courage to share feelings of shame and unworthiness when we feel that we don’t measure up to who we want to be, who we think we ought to be, or when we think others think we aren’t measuring up.
By sharing those struggles, we can begin to realize together that no one lives up to that ideal—that we all feel inadequate and need help at times. And that reality is not only okay, but normal and good. Because by recognizing our limitations and shame, we open ourselves to vulnerability and gain humility that allow us to come closer to others and to our Heavenly Father.
Understand that worth and performance aren’t the same.
Worth is unchanging and based on the fact that we are children of Heavenly Parents, but our performance or behavior is constantly fluctuating on any given day. When we equate our worth with our performance, our feelings of self-worth go up and down too.
Some days I’m productive, and some days I stay in my robe all day getting very little done. Some days I’m very patient with my children, and other days I have a very short fuse. Some days I am in tune with the spirit, and other days not so much.
But that’s life. That’s reality. As part of being a human being, our performance will go up and down based on many factors, but our worth never, ever changes.
Focus on growth and connection instead of perfection.
Instead of focusing on external signs of flawlessness—appearance, success, hours spent doing your calling, etc.—focus on your trajectory and growth. Focus on the important intangibles, like the quality of your earthly and heavenly relationships. Do I feel close or distant from God, from my family, from my ward members? How can I strengthen those relationships?
Notice and honor the signs of burnout.
As human beings, we have limitations. Our bodies, our emotions, and our spirits will give us signals to slow down, take a break, say “no,” or even back out of a commitment. Too often we ignore the signs and continue on the treadmill of doing more and more in an attempt to reach the ideal and to avoid shame.
Burnout and spiritual fatigue seem to plague even the most faithful and dedicated Latter-day Saints. When you’re feeling overwhelmed, it’s important to remember that “the Lord looketh on the heart” (Samuel 16:7). While God expects obedience, He also is mindful that our obedience will fluctuate. If we could reach our ideal identity, our full potential on our own, we would have no need for a Savior. The fact that He sent His Son to redeem us is in itself permission to be an imperfect human being.
Get more advice from Dr. Julie de Azevedo Hanks, LCSW in The Burnout Cure: An Emotional Survival Guide for Overwhelmed Women
As a wife, mother, clinical counselor, and musician, author Dr. Julie de Azevedo Hanks understands better than most the demands placed on women in the Church, and she has spent years providing clinical counseling to Latter-day Saint women and families. The Burnout Cure dispels common cultural myths that often leave women feeling “never good enough.” Through scriptural quotes, personal stories, and clinical examples, Dr. Hanks offers a bevy of tools designed to help sisters identify and meet their emotional needs, to accept their limitations, to let go of the guilt and perfectionism, and to lean on the Lord.
Julie de Azevedo Hanks, PhD, LCSW is psychotherapist and family counselor, owner and director of Wasatch Family Therapy, and author of The Burnout Cure: An emotional survival guide for overwhelmed women. Dr. Hanks regularly appears on KSL TV’s Studio 5 and in other national media outlets, and is an award-winning performing songwriter. She and her husband Jeff have been married for 26 years and are the parents of 4 children.