Healing From Shame – It’s Possible & Here’s a Story to Illustrate It

Andersons of West Hills
Leslie Anderson Oregon

Shame is the evil stepmother to her god-awful twins, Fear, and Approval. I hate all three of those idiots.

You can have healing from shame. I’ve done it. Here’s how. Enjoy this story.

I’ve known Approval and fought Fear for a long time. Both are closely linked with Shame, she’s the evil stepmother of the twins, Fear and Approval. They’ve been with me since early on in my life, they were squatters, and I didn’t really even realize they were living full time with me for awhile because they were so insidious. I think I always knew they were there, but I ignored them.

They went everywhere with me, and I had them mostly under control. Until I didn’t. The three were covered up by a need for perfection that I worked at tirelessly.

I’m finally free though. Perfectionism has plagued me for my entire life, and I have kicked the habit addiction. It’s taken a lot of work to be able to say that, but it feels so good to be free of that demon. It is a demon after all, cloaked in the lie that somehow I could even achieve perfection in the first place.

A little bit about me & healing from shame.

Perfection looks good to everyone else on the outside though, because when you try to be perfect, you fit in really well with others, at least on the surface. I lost myself completely in this battle because I took along three trespassers, Shame, Fear, and Approval that drove my need to strive for perfection.

I love getting accolades and acceptance from others. I was always the one that would try to win the awards in school or be Student of the Week. It was fun, and I’ve embraced that I really am a goal setter and achiever type. It’s who I am, but it’s also a slippery slope. Just like anything else, something that is a natural gift can also be a double edged sword. For me, being an achiever has allowed me to accomplish a lot of personal goals.

I took it too far though and started working harder toward gaining the Approval of others and acting perfect, with the underlying companions of Fear and Shame right at my side.

I’ve learned a lot from this battle and you, too, can untangle.

Here’s how the lie of perfection finally tore me apart, and why I’m untangling from it. I’ve kicked my three sworn enemies, Shame, Fear, and Approval, out of my life. You can do it too, I want to encourage you in that. It’s hard work, but you won’t regret taking these three on. You are stronger than they are. They act tough, but you are tougher. They are idiots, after all, and you are not.

Let’s get to know the personalities of the idiots.

The Mean-Spirited, Fear

Fear is a huge driver of perfectionism. It’s is an interesting emotion actually. If we’re talking about false fears and anxiety, it’s not productive. It preys on us secretly, and we try to hide that from ourselves and the world. No one wants to admit they have Fear, but we all do.

We all have our special areas where it strikes, and I hate to tell you this, but that’s where you’re going to struggle. That places where you’re weak, and the one that keeps you awake at night. That’s Fear, she’s there with you, and she provides no comfort at all.

Fear is also mean-spirited. She doesn’t care if you are uncomfortable, stressed out, can’t sleep, and anxious. She will keep you awake, whispering in your ear about all the ‘what if’ scenarios and all the mistakes you’ve made. She and Shame are relentless that way. They don’t even try to pretend they are your friends.

The Evil Stepmother, Shame

Shame is more cowardly than fear, but much more sinister. Fear lets you know she’s there, whispering in your ear those nasty messages that fill you with doubt. Shame, on the other hand, hides in the dark corners and infiltrates your soul, telling you that you really aren’t worth it, and that you are inherently bad. Shame is the most evil of the three.

The Party Girl, Approval

Approval, now she’s sneaky. She acts like your friend. She helps you succeed. She helps you to be liked by people and she’s popular. She makes you feel great for awhile. She is the one who calls and wants to hang out with you and she’s the party girl of the group. Who doesn’t like to party?! Approval is the expert in this and she knows that you like her, and more importantly, that you need her.

I chose to spend a lot of time with Approval because she was popular. I liked her. The others were mean, but Approval gave me the validation I craved and she made me feel so good about myself.

I allowed these three, Shame, Fear, and Approval to stay, without even knowing that I was setting myself up for a hard fall.

They had been around for so long that they seemed to belong, even though they were uninvited, they made me believe were entitled so eventually I just accepted them.

Overall, it didn’t seem like such a problem, and I really didn’t want to deal with any of them, because they were a pain, and I figured that it was normal to have these companions. Life went along okay, and sometimes ignoring the annoying is the best course of action, so that’s what I did at first, and they kept quiet for the most part and only acted up occasionally.

Later on though, they showed their true colors of destruction and I had to make a decision to get rid of them in my life completely. They hurt me very badly at the end of the day, and the wounds of my long term relationship with them showed their full depth.

Even though they were destructive for me, I didn’t know how to live without them. What happened with me isn’t only related to looking for Approval at work, but it was a catalyst for change in my life as a whole.

Here’s what happened.

After spending some amazing years raising my kids and being a stay at home mom, I decided I wanted to pursue a career. So I dusted off my Bachelor’s degree and got a job outside the home. I worked very hard. I applied myself diligently, because it was something I wanted for myself.

I brought Approval with me to my job, obviously. People liked me and they liked her, but I don’t think they even knew that she was there. I hid her pretty well. I was pursuing my personal and professional goals. I started to work harder, and work toward promotions and being the very best I could possibly be, bringing my A game everyday.

These are all good things and I am proud of myself for that. I wouldn’t change any of that, there’s been a lot of personal satisfaction in the path I’ve chosen. Underlying that were some issues though because of the trespassers.

That bitch Approval was right alongside me.

I wanted all this achievement to continue because it felt good and I was happy and doing something I loved. Of course I wanted to hang on to it, and for things to keep going well, my job was was good and positive, and I was taking a path that made sense for me in my journey of life and growing.

My problem was that Approval started acting weird, and I felt like she was no longer my friend and she was starting to threaten me in little ways. I ignored it though. The signs were there, but I didn’t want to believe that my approach wasn’t working for me anymore. The idiots and I still hung out all the time.

Eventually Fear spoke up a little more forcefully with her twin and I started to listen to her, because I could no longer ignore her. ‘What if all this good achievement goes away?’ ‘What if all my hard work is for nothing?’ ‘You know that Approval doesn’t really like you, don’t you?’ The infiltration had begun. It crept in to my psyche and I started doing more and more to keep Approval happy.

I got sucked in to needing that bitch Approval to be with me for everything in my entire life. I was addicted to her by this point, but I didn’t even know it. The world slowly started closing in on me as my addiction grew, and Approval showed her true colors.

Shame, Fear, and Approval started to erode my self-esteem

Soon, I wasn’t relishing in my work and my accomplishments anymore. Fear and Shame kept me awake at night and whispered lies to me because they saw that I was struggling with Approval. It was like a fog that grew more dense over time and over my life.

crop sportswoman juggling tennis balls on meadow

Keeping everyone happy because of my underlying battle with Fear, Approval, and Shame became such a burden. The three caused me to lose sight of who I really was, and they started to show their true agendas. I knew it deep down, but I didn’t want to believe it was true.

I still wanted to believe that I had them all under control, even though they were slowly destroying me from the inside out. It was impacting all the areas of my life by this point and all my relationships.

After awhile, my satisfaction in my career and in my life, generally, was completely at the whim of others and I had lost myself. Shame, Fear, and Approval were now running the show. They whispered direction and I followed it precisely, it’s the only way I knew how to be.

If someone was mad at me, I’d work hard to make it right. If someone was happy with me, I’d do more to make them happier. You can see the problem here. There is zero room for me in that equation.

Fear made me do things for Approval that ultimately didn’t even reflect who I was, while Shame looked on and laughed.

I was overworking to try to keep the balls in the air, and chasing Approval continually. She wasn’t returning my calls anymore, and I wanted to hang out with her. She became unpredictable and evasive. Fear and Shame showed up again and reminded me of all those sneaky little messages of hate that they deliver.

They got louder and LOUDER, and LOUDER until I could no longer ignore them anymore. They started stealing my belongings and leaving garbage all over. They were squatters who now thought they had a legal right to stay, and I had no recourse to get rid of them.

Approval just stopped by when she wanted to and ate my food and then left again. She was off to another party or to help someone else become popular. When Approval did come around, she had morphed in to a monster I could no longer control, after so many years.

She became too powerful and I would do anything to maximize the time we spent together. I wanted Approval’s attention again, and for us to have a solid connection, like we did before.

It was a fake relationship with Approval in the first place, but I didn’t see that until later. She always was a bitch, but it was hidden under the party girl persona. I was anxious, alone, scared, and being crushed under the weight of these three that I had willingly invited in to my world. I tried to fix it. I tried to make things work for us again. I thought we were just going through a rough patch, as all relationships do, but it was too late.

The Blindside

Fear, Shame, and Approval then did something so disruptive to my life that it became the catalyst of change. They locked me out of my own residence one day. I didn’t even see it coming. They blindsided me, and when I arrived, I thought it must be some kind of mistake. It was MY place after all.

How could they do this? They were standing on the inside, laughing, while I stood outside my own dwelling, looking in, and realizing that I had allowed them to take over everything, willingly. I had given them the keys and full reign, and they took advantage of the opportunity.

They laughed at me through the windows of MY dwelling, and I cried and begged for mercy. They saw my pain, and chose to make fun of it. I was a shell of myself, and realized for the first time that I had given up so many parts of myself for these three, and their sole motive was to destroy me all along. I realized in that moment what I had done, and I was devastated. I felt like I was ruined. I walked away for a little while, and just cried.

I was completely lost and I felt very alone, without a place to even call home, while Fear, Shame, and Approval lived it up in what was left of me. I knew that it was my responsibility to make it right, but I was very weak from my own choices at this point.

I made a hard correction in my life, and made some big, big, big internal changes after I lost control.

Finally, as the full weight of the pain settled in, and while feeling so stripped of my very self and my soul, I decided I needed to do something different. I had just enough courage to take action. I don’t know how I had it in me, but I knew that it was now or never and I had to try to get my life back.

It was time for me to stand up for myself and take back control, otherwise there was little hope for me. This was my last shot, and I knew that. It was scary, and lonely, and a path fraught with devastation. It took a lot of courage, because I had let these three become my closest confidants, and now I was starting over.

I didn’t even know if I had the energy to start. I was afraid that they would burn my residence down and destroy it for good, leaving nothing for me. They didn’t care and they had no compassion for me. Shame whispered, ‘See, you did this to yourself. Look at you now.’

I finally kicked Shame, Fear, and Approval out.

Feeling the full weight of the battle, I made a decision and took action. I threw Shame, Fear, and Approval out when I got the courage. I broke back in to my residence, kicking the door in, and tossing them all out. It felt great, but I was still scared. It was a violent scene, but I had just enough courage and will to stick to my decision. I tossed their clothes on the front lawn and changed the locks on the doors.

The confrontation

It took a few days of full on confrontation to get them off my property, but they got the message. They knew it was over. I mourned the loss of them, but I knew it was the right thing to do. I didn’t know how I would live without them, because I had relied on them for so long. Could I really do this on my own? Would it be worth it? I felt I had no options if I wanted to try to do things differently and live a peaceful life.

They keep trying to come back. I have mistakenly opened the door to them on quite a few occasions, but fortunately realized my error and threw them out again. They’ve sent cards, flowers, and called me, trying to make up with me. I see the motives, and I know that along with the gifts, they are bringing the wreckage that I just untangled from.

I had to stay strong

I’ve had to be tough and keep my distance from them. I feel so much better, and every time I stop their fake advances, I get stronger. It’s been painful, and it still is. I’m cleaning up and starting over, while I’m still hurting from what they did to me, and things I did because I listened to the idiots.

faceless woman putting on medical gloves

I’ve spent the time cleaning up after them, and redecorating myself. I’ve changed some things, and others are still the same. I’m getting rid of things they ruined. I keep finding more wreckage, but I’ve been consistent in getting rid of it. It’s like an episode of Hoarders – Extreme Version.

I don’t think I’ll ever fully know the extent of the damage. I’ve done the work, and I’ve also taken time in the process to rest. It was a long battle with them, and it did a lot of damage to my soul, and there are battle scars. I have no timeline, so I’ve allowed myself the grace to recover.

The clean up

I’ve spent my time adding new things in my life, and pulling others out of storage, things that I forgot I already had. My residence is now reflective of me and who I want to be and not filled with reminders of the nightmare they caused. I’ve remembered things I already had that I had moved to storage and locked away.

When I started discovering myself again, it made me glad to have reminders of who I am and to have my life back. I’m making the choice to connect authentically with people that love me and like me. Most importantly, my connection with God and with myself is the first priority.

As far as my external life goes, I’m still working in the career that I love and I work with people that I like. I have friends and family that love me. I’m doing things that are reflective of me and continuing that path of rest and recovery. It feels very good. I feel like myself, and that I am fully living in my own skin and body. I’m still working on the clean up from the three idiots at the same time. Slowly, thoughtfully, and carefully building a different foundation for my life and choosing not to chase down Approval.

What has happened since I finally got rid of the idiots?

I’m able to be myself and that has been intensely satisfying, and I’m no longer overworking for the sake of getting everyone else’s stamp of approval. It’s taken time to work through that fear and shame, it’s scary to let that go, because the natural question is, ‘Am I enough?’ but I know that’s just shame whispering in my ear.

It’s taken a lot of soul-searching to get to this place. As far as approval goes, I don’t want to go along with her to parties anymore, I know that it’s not a path of real and authentic connection.

I’ve realized that my inner being and self-worth don’t rely on whether anyone approves of me or whether I’m perfect. I finally understand that I will make mistakes, people won’t always be happy with me, and that has to be good enough. If that’s not enough, then the job, relationship, or goal isn’t worth it because living for Shame, Fear, and Approval is too heavy a price to pay.


If you unknowingly invited Fear, Shame, and Approval in to your life, it’s time for you to kick them out too.

If you want to change, you’ll have to fight for it. It’s not easy. Come over for espresso and we’ll talk about what that has looked like for me. It takes the courage to dig deep and fully own who you are. I’ve had a lot of help with this fight. I haven’t been alone, as I once thought. For that, I am grateful.


Letting go of perfection has made room for more exploration.

When I really decided to change, it’s helped me to really be who I am, fully and completely. I am having more fun in life and enjoying adventures I never considered before.  That’s taken time.  My rest and recovery have been a part of that journey and I have a deep peace and comfort that I didn’t know existed.  Sometimes when you walk to the brink and are able to step back from it, that’s the best outcome, a life of deep gratefulness and peace.  I’m living in stillness and joy now, and I never want that to end.

Just be who you are.  It feels good, and it is enough.

I was so caught up in trying to do things right and perfect, that I missed just ‘doing.’ Jason said he’s noticed a huge difference in me in this area. He’s seeing what was underneath the front of perfection and it’s allowed us to grow in our relationship because of it. I’m glad he likes it, because it’s me, and I don’t feel that I need his approval. I’m still the same person I always was, the foundation was there, it just got lost for awhile. It’s back, and I think it’s actually an enhanced version of me.

I’m done with the lie of a perfect life, and you should be too. Let it go, and just be. Fully explore who you are and stop trying to get other people’s approval. I’m betting you’ll find out things about yourself that you didn’t know, or that you forgot were there, and that you’ll like what you discover.  It’s very likely that Fear, Shame, and Approval are drivers of the need for perfection, at least that’s the case for me and it was a recipe for disaster.

You never will get other people’s full approval, by the way.

In fact, if you choose to give up this perfection trap, other people might not like you. It’s the facts, you’ll be judged by some people no matter what you do, particularly if you start owning who you are. Your true friends and family will love you either way, so what do you have to lose?

If they don’t love you no matter what? You need to get new friends and get some therapy 🙂 I speak from experience on that.  You might as well own yourself and who you are. That’s who God made you to be.  What I do know, is that you are enough and I am enough too.  That’s all that matters at the end of the day.  Shame is a liar and a fraud.  

For the sake of your own happiness, and more importantly, peace, if you let go of the need to be perfect all the time, you actually will live a perfect life. It’ll be messy, filled with adventure, and with lots of ups and downs that you really won’t expect. This is just the way life is going to go anyway, whether you want it to or not, it’s going to be a roller coaster. It’s not going to be the idyllic life that you are imagining, but it’s a far better choice as I’m learning.


 

I fully and totally approve of you reading this post (ha ha!).  I will be here, fighting the good fight to live authentically, imperfectly, and in a way that I was always meant to, without Fear, Shame, and Approval. Take what you like from this post and leave the rest, I had a lot of fun writing this, and it was very healing. 

Also, take a listen to our podcast.  We talk about marriage, business ownership, and how we manage to do both at the same time.  

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