Blog entry by Sandra B Stanford, LMHC
“I’d rather be dead than red on the head” was a chant I heard regularly as a kid growing up in Memphis, Tennessee. “Carrot Top” became an unwelcome nick name. I hated my red hair. As far as I was concerned, it did not serve me well and I dreamed of the day that I could march into the beauty salon and be handed a chart that gave me the ability to choose a color….any color that did not have ridicule and shame attached to it.
Shame…my shame was associated with a part of my body that had been with me since birth. I was stuck with it and would regularly look in the mirror and dream of being a blonde, so carefree and pretty. But the mirror told me the truth. My red hair was my nemesis, and it brought me feelings of shame.
“If you put shame in a Petri dish and douse it with secrecy, silence and judgement, shame grows exponentially.”Brené Brown, Shame researcher
This can be debilitating. The main issue with shame is the feeling that there is something wrong with me. And shame is merciless. It knows no boundaries, is no respecter of persons, race, culture or creed.
How do people experience shame? One of the markers of shame begins in our bodies. Sometimes our head might drop down, or our mouth feels dry. Our heart can beat faster and our cheeks turn red. Not everyone experiences the same symptoms, so it is important to tune into our body’s shame signals. Once we start to notice feelings of shame, we are in a better position to address them and turn them around to self-love.
As I grew up and began to learn the importance of self-acceptance, I began the journey by embracing that part of me that had brought such hurt. I decided to work on accepting my red hair by first looking in the mirror and saying: “I love and accept you,” and “You are a good person and you are beautiful.” The mirror was no longer an enemy, but a friend.
Therefore, one of the assignments I give to my clients who struggle with self-image is called “mirror therapy.” I ask them to look into a mirror and state, “I am beginning to love you.” To reassure them that I am not asking anything of them that I do not do for myself, I first demonstrate this exercise with a handheld mirror I keep in my office.
The journey of self-love begins with knowing where you have been judging or condemning yourself and determining to change your self-talk with compassion and love. Brené Brown ends her previous shame statement with these words:
“But, if shame is doused with empathy, it cannot grow. Empathy is a hostile environment for shame.”
It is my hope that each of us can walk a life of loving our bodies in a healthy way. This can be hard. And it is done only one step at a time. But we are all worthy of this journey of learning to love those parts that have previously taunted us.
I am no longer that little girl in elementary school looking for a beauty shop to erase a part of me. Instead, when I wake up and take that first look in the mirror, I am anticipating a good day because it will be filled with self-love and acceptance––the key to relinquishing shame and embracing who I am.
Sandra B Stanford, LMHC
Certified Daring Way ™ Facilitator
Certified in EMDR Therapy
Founder Our Marriage Matters Retreats
Interested in learning more about shaming and embracing?
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