What You Should Remember When You Feel Ashamed

Nathan O'Nions
Nathan O’Nions

It’s important to remember how this feels. It’s important to consciously feel the dull sickness in your stomach when you think of what you’ve done, of what you’ve caused. It’s important to look it in the eye. To look yourself in the eye. To ask yourself how you got here. There was a time where even the thought of acting this way would have made you sick, and now you’ve moved so far away from that younger, more innocent version of yourself that they’re barely even recognizable. You’re barely recognizable.

You get older. You won’t make the same decisions at 22 as you did at 16 and no one should expect you to. But when you start to experience a sort of out-of-body sensation when you think about what you did, about the decisions you made without really even thinking about them, that’s when you know you’ve gone too far. That’s when you know you need to stop for a second and really look at yourself, at what you’ve become.

Singular actions do not define you. You aren’t each individual decision you make, but you are defined by the habitual ones, by the sum of all of them together. And when you feel your actions are starting to define something you never wanted to be, that’s when you need to sit down with yourself and figure out who the hell you want to be, and start doing the things that will get you there and stop doing the things that won’t.

It’s important to sit with the guilt, with the awfulness of it all, and not try to avoid having to experience it, having to feel it fully. Feeling that guilt, allowing that shame to crawl all over you is part of the process. It’s part of how you grow. If you don’t acknowledge those feelings you will never be able to change your actions. Feeling the crappiness is the only way to stop yourself from doing the things that make you feel crappy. Really, truly, feeling it.

But as you sit with your shame and feel like the only thing you can do is curl up in a ball and listen to music that is conducive to hating yourself for the complete screw-up you’ve somehow become, you need to remember something: We all make mistakes. We all do things that make us recoil at the thought of ourselves. We all have moments when we see the line and we coast or even leap right over it, when we wake up the next morning and know before we’re even fully conscious that we have royally messed up.

And then you must do what must be done with all emotions. You must look them in the face, you must say their name out loud, you must let them course fully through every inch of your body, and then you must release them. You messed up. You did something that is hard to face in the daylight. You hurt someone, or yourself, or both. You strayed far away from the Person You Want To Be. But the only thing worse than making a terrible mistake — the only thing worse than experiencing a shame with the intensity of a thousand suns — is not learning from it.

You have already done what you did. Do the best you can to make amends, do your best to atone for what’s passed, but realize the only power that lies in your hands is the power to go forward, and start acting in a way that makes you feel like yourself, that makes you feel like someone you’d be proud to know.

Harness this feeling and use it. Even if it hurts. Use it to change the direction things are going in. Use it to get you find your way back to the person you know you are. Feel and it and own it and remember it next time. Remember it next time you start to sway over the line. Remember it, and come back to yourself. TC mark

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