Hunting Shame When in Isolation

By Douglas Withrow - 05/08/2020


I remember as boy of 5 or 6, the attic in my house was a mystery. We would only climb the stairs occasionally to find old boxes and keep sakes that had been left to gather dust. There were treasures to be found. It was a place of adventure — a place of fun.

However, during the dark of night I could see from my bed, across the hall, to the attic door. This mysterious, fun, place of adventure, became terrifying. I was alone to face the monsters that surely haunted those cluttered, dust filled spaces, and — I was convinced — would creep across the hall to grab me in my sleep.

Most of us have had similar experiences of fear and loneliness. As adults, the monsters may be different, but they feel just as real. One of the monsters that threaten us is shame. And shame revels in isolating its victims. It haunts us in our quiet moments with messages of “not good enough,” “who do you think you are,” and “you don’t deserve.” We no longer are staring at the attic doorway, but inside, into our emptiness.

The current state of our planet and our communities has necessitated a need for social distancing. One of the consequences has been isolation and this fuels shame. Although some of us may have family members to stem the tide of isolation, many of us do not. Most of us have lost many of the supports that sustain and encourage us: faith communities, 12-step groups, therapy groups, and friendship gatherings. In this isolation shame can stalk us.

So, how do we turn the tables on shame? Typically we expose it to the light of day. We share it with a safe person or community who can remind us who we are. However, with social distancing it can be difficult to find these safe places.

Fortunately, there are other ways we can hunt the shame that haunts us — even when we are alone.

  • Start a gratitude list. Every day write 5 things for which you are grateful. Commit to it for 90 days and see what happens.
  • Connect with God or “higher power.” Implement healthy faith reminders and rituals in your home and daily life: prayer, meditation, breathing, lighting of candles, music. You can find ideas by googling resources in your community of faith. 
  • Get into nature. This may take some creativity with the closure of parks in some areas. But, even stepping into the sun on an apartment balcony for 30 minutes can change mood.
  • Write affirmations. For every year you have lived, write one affirmation. For some of us it may seem a rather large task but just start with one. After you’re done, you can read them to yourself aloud. If you are especially courageous, send them to a trusted friend.
  • Using meditation apps. Many mediation apps have meditations targeting self-esteem.
  • Journaling. Note your negative messages and identify the counter positive message. When  venting in journaling it can at times lead to a shame spiral. If this is your pattern, end your daily journal with an affirmation and encouragement (i.e. “I am enough” “I am capable”).
  • Connect with social media.
  • Find an online therapy or 12-step group.

Hunting shame can be difficult when we feel isolated. However, there are many resources at our disposal if we will use them. After all, although the messages of shame feel real, ultimately they are figment of our imagination. Each one of us is a unique, amazing, expression of creation.

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