“Shame loves secrets. Shame cannot stand being spoken.”
— Brene Brown
The shame of having herpes tends to pull us into our own scary shadows (even though there are plenty of people telling you to quit the negative fantasy BS and hear that you’re worthy of a deluge of love). Shame has us stay blind in the darkness of our own self-defeating mind-cage to try to deal with it on our own (like any strong person should be able to do, right?). But that has us telling ourselves the (false) story that we are alone. We are not alone. YOU are NOT alone! Squash that story! The more you can really allow yourself to get that, the less shame you will have, the more likely you will be to reach out when you need it, the more love will be available to let in, the more healing and growth happens. The more you free yourself of stigmatizing labels, the more free you are to be YOU. And what’s more lovable than that? (Note the rhetorical question.)
Brené Brown defines shame as “The intensely painful experience or belief that you’re flawed and unworthy of love and belonging.” And what better excuse to believe all those horrible things than herpes? Then somewhere along the line, some less-than-nice voice inside of us got the bright idea that if it shames us enough, we’ll somehow rewind time and be free of this virus. On some level, we believe that if we punish ourselves, the pain will go away. (Irony at its finest.) And much of this suffering is self-inflicted; it's in our own heads. Why do we put ourselves through so much? What happens when we stop beating ourselves up?
How is shame like saltwater to the thirsty?
Brown says “A belief that we’re not worthy of love and belonging is what drives most of the destructive behavior we see.” So true. When we have the choice between the carrot or the stick, we seem to by default choose the stick to beat ourselves with instead of feeding ourselves a healthy carrot. We somehow think that if we heap on enough shame, that will make things better, but it’s not quenching our thirst for love. Shame is just making things worse, compounding the pain. As if someone who is parched assumes saltwater will quench the thirst; but instead, the saltwater only makes the thirst worse. So it’s not about avoiding the shame by trying to somehow prove our worthiness … You ARE worthy. Period. Know that. Own it. You wouldn’t be feeling so bad if a part of you didn’t already know that you deserve better. Once you get that you are worthy of love, you will start treating yourself differently, which will create an opening for the love from others to enter.
We hear of the stigma of herpes and create a story about ourselves that doesn’t match with who we truly are. Are you stigmatizing yourself? Please stop that. You don’t deserve it! Love yourself instead. Be compassionate with yourself instead. It will take you so much further. And it feels so much better.
Sounds great, but how the heck do I move past the shame?
Think about your healing process in stages of opening up yourself to more and more love and support. If shame is about shutting down, self-love is about opening up. First thing I want you to notice: You’re here reading this article. That’s the first step. You’re here because you care about yourself enough to feel better and to stop the self-abuse. And that is such good news!