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Why Shame Isn’t Worth Dying For

Question on Quora:

Why did you still live even if you felt shame?

My answer:

I wish I could give you a compelling and inspiring personal experience story about my own struggle with shame. I can’t. However, I have struggled with depression deep enough that I’ve contemplated suicide more than once in my life. Since depression is related to shame in that they can both involve feelings of unworthiness or guilt – and I’m guessing you asked me to answer to receive encouragement more than anything else – I’m going to dive in and do the best I can with the help of my forty-nine years of wisdom and life experience.

Let’s start by getting things in perspective. Like depression, shame can hook into one’s soul deeply and painfully, making it feel like it’s going to last forever.

But truthfully? It’s a temporary emotion caused by a temporary action or circumstance.

So number one, understand that this emotion, however strong it may be, will not last forever.

Number two, where is the shame coming from? If it’s coming from something you did that was wrong, you can ask for forgiveness – from God, from the person or people you wronged. The people may not give it, but God always will.

You won’t necessarily feel forgiven right away. But knowing that you have truly repented in your heart will likely give you the courage to move on with life. Determine not to make such a huge mistake again, to live the Golden Rule, and the shame will eventually shrivel away and you will come out a stronger person for having experienced it.

Perhaps the shame comes from more from how others perceive an action you took. “My parents are ashamed of me because I married a waitress and became a chef instead of becoming a lawyer and marrying the doctor’s daughter next door.” If that’s the case, you need to realize that it’s the other people’s problem, not yours. There is no shame in living an authentic life, being true to yourself, taking the paths you believe are right for you. And no one else has the right to put shame on you for doing so.

All that to say…you have control over the shame, over how much it affects you and how long it drags you down.

Now let’s look at the “Why did you still live” piece. First of all, in my darkest hours I still knew deep down that God would bring me through the misery. I also knew that God put me on earth for a reason, that to take my own life would be to be deprive the world of the unique gifts and abilities God gave me to help make the world a better place.

I know I’m going to ruffle atheist feathers with all this “God talk”, but I’ve had a close relationship with my heavenly Father for most of my adult life, and it’s my faith that has prevented that fragile thread I was sometimes hanging by, from breaking.

Outside of that faith, would I still have reason to live? I think even without my faith, even if I didn’t have a child to raise or a husband to keep my vows to, I would still have a reason. Why? Because I see suffering all around me and I know I can help. I know that if I left this earth, there would be one less person to help. I also am a visionary. I always have goals to achieve, dreams to shoot for. They pull me out of bed in the morning.

Sure, shame might drag you down for a while and make it hard to see a brighter future. Just like depression does.

But ultimately, I am still alive because I know that even I don’t feel like my existence isn’t making a positive difference, I know that it is, anyway. I’m a fighter, and refuse to let negative emotion defeat me and take away all I know I could have. I choose to be strong and courageous.

And I know that God has my back, come what may.

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