How to cope with shame, according to an expert

With age comes wisdom, and – hopefully – the knowledge that people’s opinions of you are no concern of yours.

But there’s no reason to wait years to experience self-acceptance – you just need to learn how to shake off the shackles of shame. That’s where Laura Belbin’s new book, No Shame, comes in.

‘We’re not born feeling shame, we’re fed it through what we see and hear,’ she says. ‘It’s a learned behaviour, so self-acceptance is not out of anyone’s reach.

‘We just have to nurture it, and that begins with self-esteem and learning not to seek validation from outside [influences].’

The starting point is caring less about what others think.

‘When you think of the word shame, it doesn’t conjure up positive feelings,’ says Belbin, 38, who lives with her husband and two sons in Gosport, Hampshire. ‘It makes you feel ashamed, horrible, embarrassed, lonely.

‘It’s this ick inside you that makes your toes curl, those moments you replay over and over in your mind that can make you feel so alone, and there’s nothing more crippling than feeling alone.’

Although she has a male audience online, her primary concern is to empower women, which is why she wrote No Shame specifically with women in mind.

‘I spent my teens and 20s desperate to fit in, to be what everyone wanted me to be, but at no point trying to be that person for me,’ she says.

‘And now, with social media, there’s such a heavy expectation to be a certain way, and not thinking you’re good enough. I’m also frustrated and enraged that in 2022, women are still fighting for equal pay, to be heard, to be accepted within society for who we are.’

In August 2020, 
Belbin published her first book, Knee Deep 
In Life, inspired by her Facebook and Instagram accounts of 
the same name mocking social media expectations. But in 2021, during lockdown, she experienced a breakdown.

‘It was so catastrophic, it forced me to re-evaluate everything and I had to take the smallest steps to crawl back to life,’ says Belbin, who has suffered anxiety and reveals in the book that she was sexually abused as a child.

‘It’s wrong and devastating that I’ve felt shame and fear,’ says Belbin, who sought help from a psychologist specialising in trauma.

‘It’s been the hardest slog of my life,’ she writes in No Shame. ‘I have cried in every session, I have refused to address multiple issues because, like some weird sticky glue, they seem to be stuck to my insides like a part of me that doesn’t want to come undone because it could in turn undefine me.’ But today, she adds, 
‘I feel a level of peace with myself’.

Feelings of inadequacy, jealousy and failure are human nature – to stop being engulfed by them starts with small steps.

‘It can be acknowledging a feeling is there, in the moment, but not letting it define how you’re going to feel the rest of the day, and if something good happens, celebrating the fact you deserve it because we’re not very good at encouraging women to celebrate successes,’ says Belbin.

Laura Belbin’s advice for soothing shame

‘I’ve invested a lot of time into thinking what do I need for myself to feel safe, secure and loved? And when I don’t feel OK, to ask myself, what do I need?’ she says. ‘It’s about tackling the small parts of our lives that feel overwhelming, and when we start chipping away at whatever it is, it gives space for better things. For me, it’s yoga, lifting weights, baking, going for a walk.’

‘I have people around me I utterly adore, and can absolutely trust. These are people that nurture and validate your experience and cheer you on. So much of this book is about discovering who you are, what you want, accepting that’s OK and believing in yourself.‘

No Shame by Laura Belbin (Ebury Spotlight) is out now at Waterstones.

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