Shame Will Kill You – By Nicola O’Hanlon

I’ve had a revelation, just this morning actually, that most of my life has been spent trying to avoid shame. I’m not alone in that pursuit either. It seems that most of the world is running from it too in one form or another.

I have also been angry most of my life. The seed that created all of that anger is absolutely, unequivocally, shame, and every time someone attempts to shame me still, an anger rises up that I can’t resolve easily. The two emotions are intrinsically linked.

Someone told me the other day that what I do is not actually real work. I was rooted to my chair, unexpectedly. Usually I’m not afraid of an argument. Usually I’d have defended myself and my work, but the person calmly walked away from me after saying what they said. It was clear that the comment was meant to put me down, make me feel inferior and shame me for my chosen career path. I don’t understand their thinking, but despite that, it still rendered me paralyzed.

I immediately became aware of that familiar raw feeling in my chest. Devastation. But why such an intense reaction? The anger rose in me later that day the and was released in an hour long crying session. During that hour, I remembered the other occasions of shaming throughout my life and how it left me too afraid to move forward, or try new things.

Four years old, learning to read and write; my teacher would thump me in the back and call me a dunce for not understanding where to put my full stops. I’d write my little story, and then place dots randomly throughout the words. Feeling very pleased with myself, I’d take it to the teacher and instead of teaching me, she thumped me. As a result, I struggled my entire life with learning and it took me thirty-five years to let anyone else see my writing.

“You have a fat arse.”  “You’d be so much prettier if you lost weight”…….I heard it over and over again. I then spent my whole life hating my body and being ashamed of every inch of it. It’s funny, because when I look back at old photos I don’t see fat. I just see beauty. I wasted my entire youth hanging onto a perception of myself that wasn’t mine.

Shame is in me deep. Right in my bone marrow. There have been endless instances that I don’t care to recall. It made me want to give up on myself, and I felt the same way the other day. What’s the fucking point, I thought. I even feel it’s presence right now, feeling shame because I’m voicing past experiences, which I should have forgotten about and gotten over by now. Right?

I know many of you will relate to these instances or some like them. You will recognise the shame associated that created the bars of your cage and held you hostage. You will also understand the daily struggle to release yourself and convince your tired mind that being you is absolutely worth it. Sometimes you can’t convince yourself though.

It has sent some of us quite mad. We have lost our minds from the exhaustive pursuit to be good enough, worthy, acceptable. We become depressed, bio-polar, psychotic. We have sought out alternative reality through drugs, alcohol, food, sex, to find some relief and to convince ourselves that we are all that they say we should be. It has even killed some of us.

But who are these, they?

Well, they are you and I. We do it to each other. We judge and condemn because of skin colour, religion, politics, age, tattoos and fat arses. We judge and condemn inside of our tiny boxes, from inside our tiny minds until we make each other crazy and so afraid of other people, places and things that we become enslaved…….by shame. We make up rules about appropriate behaviour, right and wrong and forget about basic kindness and respect. We live half lives because our notions about societal appropriateness and acceptability cannot under any circumstances be trespassed upon. Until we stop living altogether.

So for fuck sake, write the story and put the full stops wherever you want, get the tattoo, embrace your big fat arse, wear your burka, or don’t wear it, wear a miniskirt at 60…..even if you’re a guy, speak your mind, stand up for yourself, dye your hair Octarine, travel the world, do whatever the hell you want and don’t let others fear induced shame infect you.

You may be hated and looked down upon and declared mad for living your life free, but one thing I know for sure is, you will not hate yourself! You will wake up every day very fucking pleased with yourself, knowing that you are conquering the most insidious and lethal weapon on this planet. Shame. Shame cannot breathe if you like yourself.

So keep cheering for yourself. Know contentment. Be happy. Be free. Be SHAMELESS.

8 thoughts on “Shame Will Kill You – By Nicola O’Hanlon

  1. Hello,

    I came across your website through a book called Hearts and Scars. I relate so much to your story and it’s helping me during this dark time Im going through. Shame…I feel a tremendous amount of shame over things Ive done. It feels like someone is ripping my heart out of my chest. Your words seriously inspire me and are guiding me during this difficult time. Thank you so much!

    1. Hi Susan. Thank you so much for your message. I am so glad that you can relate to what I write. If you would like some extra support around this, I run a coaching group called “Full Bloom” for women on on Sundays at Noon Est 5pm Uk & Ireland. It’s a brand new concept that I’m developing around women dropping labels and really getting back to who they really are. Today we are starting the introduction. is totally free to sign up to and so is my coaching group. It’s live video. If you feel like it’s something that could help I’d love to see you there.

  2. Love this Nicky – and I laughed at the fat arse comment (I have a fat arse, so I could relate). I want to strike the person who made that comment about this not being real work. That got me riled up for some reason too.

    What you say about shame is bang on. I have only realized in the last year or so that I carry a lot of it. I had many people tell me things about me that I have internalized, and even now, at 46, I am immediately transported back to my childhood, where I am terrorized for being a good student, for following the rules, for being a nice kid. This carried over into seeking validation everywhere, and detachment in the booze. Even now I know that there are times I seek the Likes and the Great Job and all that crap because I still have a bit of a hole left in me.

    I hope to get to a point of shameless. It will be a long road. And you know what, Nicky – as I type this, I am tearing up. This always hits the sore spot for me. Thank you. I clearly have a lot of work to do.


  3. Great job Nicola, I to just wrote a similiar article I published yesterday on my blog about fear and not feeling good enough for your next opporotunity etc. Loved this keep up the great work my friend!

  4. Perfection as always. I always knew my anger followed my shame around, but I did not realize they were related. Thanks for the enlightenment! XXOO– Alana

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