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Lose the Shame and Guilt

Lose the Shame and Guilt


Do you have a voice in your head beating up on you by constantly reminding you that you 'should have,' 'shouldn't have,' or 'don't deserve'? If so, I can identify that voice: shame. It's only human to feel shameful about things we have done in the past that we regret. My clients often talk about their living with HIV in this way. But if left unresolved, shame becomes a never-ending kick to your self-esteem, and it keeps you from moving forward with your life. But there are some simple and effective ways to start loosening the grip that shame can have on your life. (1) Feel your pain. If you hold your shame in, it just goes underground but still finds a way to keep you its prisoner. Sit down with someone you trust'an objective friend or a trained listener'and talk about any shame you may be feeling as well as the guilt, anger, and fear that go along with it. Stop fighting these uncomfortable feelings, and they will become less powerful. (2) Accept the past. You can't go into instant replay or otherwise change something that can't be undone. This applies to any number of truths about yourself, including your HIV status. By spending time wishing things were different, you will only stay you stuck in the past. (3) Argue back. When you start to hear your inner voices gearing up to play the shame game, go on the offensive by reminding yourself that the past is past, and do a review of what's working well in your life right now. Go out and do something positive for yourself. (4) Practice forgiveness. If you carry a lot of shame, chances are you are also unforgiving of others. Give up any grudges you have toward others. It's good practice to help you forgive yourself. Can you say that word? Forgive! (5) Commit to staying healthy. This includes protecting yourself and others from exposure to HIV. If you have anything going on in your life that you feel might place you at risk'substance abuse or sexual addiction, for example'consider seeking help from a professional. (6) Face forward. What can you do to make this the best day possible? Spend time every day showing compassion to yourself and to others. Do something that feeds your mind and your soul and that contributes to your physical well-being'or benefits those around you. Go ahead. Leave the shame behind and free yourself up for the future. McClain is a licensed counselor in New York City with a specialty in coping with chronic and life-threatening health conditions. His books include The Complete Idiot's Guide to Breaking Bad Habits and Empowering Your Life With Joy, and he is a frequent contributor to health-related publications.

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