Stop Believing Shame’s Lies (and a Giveaway to Help!)

Let’s face it, shame is sneaky. You want to stop believing shame, but it engulfs you like one of J.K. Rowling’s Dementors, those terrifying wraiths that drain happiness. Soon you’re locked in what author and researcher Brené Brown calls a shame spiral.

The bully in your brain rants: “You’re a failure! You can’t do anything right!” And when you believe those thoughts, you’re drawn into the hell of self-hate.

After some internal torture, you realize that you need support to regain sanity. So you call a friend and say, “Help!”

 friends, helping through shame spiral

Then you feel better … and the sneaky shame spiral lie arises. It goes like this: “I’ve moved past the shame stuff! Never dealing with that again!”

A week or a month goes by, and something else blindsides you. You’re down again. Except this time it’s worse, because you convinced yourself that you were done with the darkness.

You’re ashamed of whatever it was that triggered the slide, plus you’re ashamed of feeling shame at all.

What can prevent this? For me, an answer appeared when I called my close friend Tammy (pictured above) during a severe shame spiral.

She listened and offered words of encouragement. Still, I kept apologizing for calling. Though I felt worlds better just hearing her voice, it felt ‘selfish’.

Eventually, Tammy said, “Listen, whenever you’re feeling this way, give me a call. I might not always be available to answer the phone, but I’ll always be here for you.”

“Really?!” I asked.

“Really,” she said. “Write it down, so you’ll remember.”

We both laughed; Tam knows that I tend to forget what’s real unless I write it down.

So I transcribed her words, but I didn’t stop there. After all, implicit in our conversation was the idea that I would go down a shame spiral again someday. And when that happened, I wanted to be prepared.

Paradoxically, admitting that I wasn’t ‘done’ with shame was a huge relief. It took the pressure off, allowing me to acknowledge and prepare for future struggles.

With that in mind, I created a Shame Spiral Survival Kit.

Shame Spiral Survival

It contains:

Here I must make a confession: when I received an advance copy Hands Free Life, I could only handle reading it in small increments. Rachel’s gentle, compassionate stories shed light on my dark corners, and that felt scary at first.

For example, when I read an early passage in which Rachel turns down an ill-timed NPR interview request in order to guard time with her family, my mind said:

“Look at how Rachel held to her boundaries! You couldn’t do that. You’re too ambitious; you’d be afraid to turn down such an opportunity. Your faith isn’t strong enough … ”

Now, Rachel shares plenty of her own mistakes in the book. But in the beginning, my inner critic turned her moments of clarity and courage into personal indictments.

As I read, the bully in my head went into overdrive. Why? Because it was afraid. It knew that, if I actually let myself feel the compassion that underlies Rachel’s stories, I’d stop believing lies.

My mind spewed its self-critical monologue, but I kept reading. And by the final pages – when I read Rachel’s beautiful account of interacting with an employee with special needs at a fast-food restaurant – I was wiping away joyful tears. It was such a relief to see clearly again.

As I closed the book, I felt the way I do when I hear Tam’s voice, when I see dolphins in the ocean, when Jonathan holds out his hand: safe, held, and stunned with gratitude for this beautiful life.

The tide had turned. Shame was washed away in a sea of true stories.

In the end, only love remained.


Friends, I’m sharing this post in celebration of the Hands Free Life book launch on Tuesday, September 8. (I’m not an affiliate, just a friend helping to get the word out.)

If you pre-order a copy of Hands Free Life between now and Monday, September 7, you’ll also receive a free Kindle edition of Rachel’s first book, Hands Free Mama. Click here for details.

What helps you when you hit a shame spiral? Join the conversation in the comments.

When you do, you’ll be entered to win one of FOUR gifts: a copy of Hands Free Life, and three bracelets. Rachel has been so generous to offer these gifts to our community, and I’m excited to give them out!

Update: The giveaway is now closed; congratulations to our four randomly-chosen winning commenters, Donna, Lori Ray, Katharine, and Bridget!


The first two bracelets are buckskin; they read, “Live Hands Free”. (Click here for a picture and details.) The final bracelet is lavender; it reads, “Only Love Today.” I’m pictured with the lavender bracelet. (Click here for details.)

Post your comment to enter, and I’ll randomly select the four winning comments at noon Central time on Monday, September 7. Good luck!


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22 thoughts on “Stop Believing Shame’s Lies (and a Giveaway to Help!)

  1. Oh my friend, I am so honored to be a part of this VERY important and helpful post! I whole-heartedly agree that shame can start small and then it can “engulf” you (perfect word). I love that you have a toolbox for combating shame. This is a great idea! Thank you for being such an incredible supporter of mine and for courageously addressing topics that many of us struggle with! You are doing such important work!!!

    • You are so welcome, my friend! Happy to help get the word out. Thank you for being YOU. Also, I adore my “Only Love Today” bracelet – the lavender perfectly matches the shade of the tanzanite in my wedding ring, which is fitting because both help me remember what matters most. <3

  2. Lindsay says:

    Love the shame toolbox kit! When I fall into a downward spiral, I either: think about my kids and look at their photos to remind me of how sacred and short our time is; talk/write to my dearest bestie; sing/dance/swim; write love letters…

  3. Lori Ray says:

    Love Hands Free Mama and a Wish Come Clear…there are so many days when you ladies are the voice of reason in my head and the “permission givers” allowing me to see clearly that every day life is bumpy. I rely on you for posts like this one or Rachel’s that allow us to identify a mistake, a weakness, a conflict and then guide us through solutions so that we know we are never alone.
    Thank you both for all of your gracious, honest and supportive words.

  4. Bridget says:

    I love Hands Free Mama too! Thank you for doing your work as well. Both of you are very important to lots of people.

  5. I so hear this. Shame appears so often for me… and it truly freezes me into not being about to take action. I really appreciated reading this.

    I’m wondering what my own shame survival kit would consist of.

    • That’s a good question to ponder, because every person is unique and each kit would contain different items. But if you pick words, objects, or images that point you toward an experience of love and gratitude, you won’t go wrong. And you can always add and subtract items over time, too. Thanks for reading, Katherine!

  6. Eric says:

    This is a great summary of a lesson learned. Really I’ve learned this lesson before but until I read this I didn’t see how universally positive this idea of approach is.
    In our live anything that’s complex & worth while, which includes ourselves, is a continuum of learning, that we don’t live long enough to ever see the very end. An easy way to see this is by observing an artist later in life, most great artist of any kind feel like their best work is yet to come.
    Looking at this all as a journey not a race or even a destination always helps. Though I never quite put it together in a way that helps others like your post did.

  7. Donna says:

    As I recovering perfectionist, when shame tries to grip me, I repeat my mantra “Let Go Let God Be Brave Be Me” several times and take lots of deep breaths. 🙂

  8. kyenne says:

    thanks for a thoughtful post. shame is hard, and i find regaining perspective really healing: the 10-10-10 rule – is this going to matter 10 days from now? 10 months? 10 years? usually, no. that allows me to breathe, and ground myself so i can see the trigger for what it is – 99% of the time, not me.

  9. What a terrific post, Caroline! I love the idea of the survival kit. I had a particularly thorny bout of shame a couple of weeks ago after an interaction with a family member and it really sent me into the spiral. It would be great to have my own survival kit at the ready for times like those. 🙂 I love that you address and “normalize” this subject, and the idea that it’s okay not to be “done”! Thank you.

    • Jill, I’m so glad you liked it! And I loved your last post about how the moving process brought up all your stuff, literally and figuratively. 😉 And who knows – maybe a survival kit will come together naturally as you sort through your belongings.

  10. Brooke says:

    I call you! Or someone else in the inner circle. Or read the most honest writers i know: Anne Lamott, Liz Gilbert, Brene Brown, Barbara Brown Taylor, Glennon Melton.

  11. Kimberly says:

    Your words resonate with what I have termed, “Why bother?” I, like you, get into an occasional shame spiral, and I wonder why I am always surprised about it occurring. We are human, and we are not close to perfect… Still, we are masters at self-deception. The lies we tell ourselves keep us looping in unnecessary and harmful thought patterns. The cure, your cure, is spot on! We need community! We need each others to sit by our side. We need a friend who will listen on the other end of the phone. We need someone who will meet us at Starbucks for a caffeinated confidence infusion. My hang-up is I always feel like I’m “bothering people” when I need one of the above interventions. Yet, truth be told, when someone asks me for help, I feel honored that s/he would choose me. Yes, we are not alone.

    Thank you for always putting the perfect words to our imperfect human conditions (that’s what we’ll call them!).

    • Kimberly, thank you so much for your comment – I love what you shared! You said it so well – we need people to sit with us, to help us recognize that we’re human and we’re loved.

      Also, I adore the phrase, “a caffeinated confidence infusion”. Nice one. 🙂

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