Stopping the Acne Shame Spiral

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Stopping the Acne Shame Spiral

For many years my life was steeped in shame – and I had no idea what was going on.  I was clearly trying to hide something – I avoided people, tried to be perfect, looked to my husband for approval and validation – and I was riddled with anxiety, stress, insomnia and acne.  Something was clearly amiss but I couldn’t pin-point the problem.  Instead I dabbled in diets, yoga, herbs and alcohol.

When my therapist finally brought up the issue of shame in my late 30s, I had to ask her exactly what it was – and how it was affecting me.  I mean, I knew what shame was on a very surface level, but I really didn’t understand it.  And what I discovered over the next few years blew my mind and changed my life.

Shame runs deep, and often women that are struggling with acne experience it even more acutely than others.  It can deeply mark our lives and lead to further health issues, anxiety and depression.

What is shame?

Shame is a feeling of being unworthy, bad, wrong or inadequate.  Many acne patients feel a deep shame about their skin, and often these feelings of shame extend deeper and encompass the entire self.

Where does shame come from?

Shame arises when one’s ‘defects’ are exposed to others and/or one is negatively evaluated (whether real or imagined) by others.

Many women obviously view acne as a defect that is visible to the entire world, and when previous shame is already part of the picture – acne can become a shame spiral.

How does shame affect us?

Although shame is a necessary human emotion that helps us develop a moral compass, it can become destructive in our lives when experienced unnecessarily. 

Shame can lead us to believe that we have to be perfect or else we are not lovable. It can lead us to withdraw from others. It can lead us to be defensive and distant. It can lead us to feel depressed and anxious. It can lead us to be overly responsible and to excessively seek approval. It is often the experience that underlies addiction, infidelity, perfectionism, eating disorders, excessive dependency in relationships, and so many other problematic behaviors.

What is the acne shame spiral?

Often women with acne already experience some degree of shame, but acne can intensify the feelings of being unworthy, unloved and inadequate.  These are the feelings that explain why acne patients tend to experience higher levels of anxiety and depression and lower levels of self-esteem – it’s all the result of shame. 

Shame has also been proven to trigger an increase in cortisol and pro-inflammatory cytokines in the body, which can lead to more acne formation and a variety of health conditions.  This means that acne can trigger a viscous shame cycle – which results in more acne and more shame.

How do you stop the acne shame spiral?

1. Recognize our shame and its triggers – become aware of when we feel unworthy, unloved or inadequate and the behaviours that result.  This could include withdrawing, becoming defensive or distant, exercising perfectionism, skin picking, or any of the problematic behaviours discussed above.

2. Practice awareness and understand where your shame originated – listen deeply to yourself, write a short biography, feel deeply, create space to repattern your thoughts. I teach the method to accomplish this in my Beauty Bliss Program, which is part of my 7-Week Clear Skin Program.

3. Develop compassion for yourself. When you act in ways that you don’t like, be curious about it rather than critical. Instead of saying “Why did you do that?” in a critical way, try to ask the same question with an openness and a curiosity. You will find out much more about yourself by observing and gathering information instead of criticizing. Forgive yourself for your past so that you can move on.

4. Reach out and tell your story. Be heard.  Connect with others, which helps to increase our resilience against shame and create change.

5. Practice empathy. Often those that suffer from shame can project shame upon others.  Be mindful when passing judgements and practice compassion and love.  This is a huge part of stopping the shame spiral.

Stopping the acne shame spiral is a critical part of the clear skin journey.  I really encourage you to connect with an acne support group or someone that you love and trust.  Share your story.  Also, connect deeply with yourself and unravel your own shame spiral.  Focus on love and compassion – it’s the only way to create true change and healing.

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