When I let go of the shame around ageing, the unexpected happened

I started to love being a single woman in her 40s, without kids, who hadn’t hit any of the life milestones I thought I would have. Did this come naturally? No. I dreaded turning 30 - and then 40. I constantly felt like I was running out of time. I hated any changes in my face and body. And accepted less than I deserved in love and work just to try and fit in with what my peers were doing. It was fair to say that I felt drenched in the shame of not keeping up with ‘other people.’


Developing shame resilience

And then I learned how to take shame out of the equation through shame resilience. Because it doesn’t belong. Shame is something I talk and write about often because it’s the enemy of resilience. And it’s a burden many of us carry without realising. It distorts your view of the world - and of yourself - to something cruel and unforgiving, making you feel on a deep level that it’s not OK to be you.

My experience as a coach is that we don’t always recognise that shame is what we’re feeling - we are just carrying a sense of being an outsider, not right, unacceptable, unlovable or like something is wrong with you. And the challenge with that is, until you realise what you’re feeling is shame, you don’t see that it’s a weight you can (and must) learn to put down.

Shame is a killjoy

Shame ruins things for us - a fun encounter at the gym becomes hours of self-criticism for saying the wrong thing or huffing your coffee breath in the other person’s face, maybe even to the point where you’re scared to talk to that person next time round. Shame makes small mistakes burn. It tells you that your interest in another person is not wanted. That you are unacceptable, broken, hateful, embarrassing, a loser, a freak or even repulsive, disgusting and completely unlovable. This is just a small sample of the language it uses; the language we use on ourselves.

Shame is all around

Because of the way our society is set up today, we are constantly being shamed. Banks, landlords, retailers, tax authorities, employers, estate agents, etc. all use 'shaming language' as a manipulative tool. We live in a culture where shame is used constantly to get us to do something that someone else wants through the feeling that we are doing something wrong if we don’t. What’s so insidious is that often we don’t see this for what it is. We think that feeling shame indicates we are not being a good person. Developing shame resilience is essential to ensure that you are not going through life being continuously manipulated.

Shame and ageing

Ageing is something we (especially women) are taught to feel ashamed of early on. More specifically, the visible signs of getting older. I lost a lot of weight a few years ago and developed a tiny bit of neck sag as a result. The first time I saw it I was instantly triggered and started Googling all kinds of solutions, from infrared masks to surgery. For a day or so I was burning inside with the shame of that defect. But I’ve done nothing about it. Because I have learned how to take the shame narrative out of the conversation - the idea that some judgmental third party thinks I’m falling short, unattractive, past it etc. And, without that third-party perspective, I realise I don’t care about that flaw. Interesting how that works. 

Mindset is so important

Working with mindset has given me the most amazing set of tools when it comes to feeling less shame around age. Not just to deal differently with the shameful thoughts that are triggered so often by life but to replace them with something else. You cannot avoid the impact of shame on your mind and body, mainly because of the world we live in. If it’s not an advertiser or a company then someone you know could inadvertently do it because of their own social conditioning. So what’s the answer?

Developing shame resilience

Shame resilience happens when we develop a mindset that can give us distance from the overwhelming impact that shame can have. Which is usually partly physical (that flutter in the pit of your stomach) and also mental (the inner critic loves shame). You may still to feel the initial impact of shame (as I did about my neck) but what changes is what happens next.

You don’t disconnect from yourself or turn on yourself. But instead, reconnect and see the shame for what it is - the product of a very defective society, rather than any kind of truth about you. At that point, you can then choose a different narrative. One that feeds you empowerment that has nothing to do with age.

Living without limits

Being able to repeatedly throw off the shame around a topic like ageing is often when life starts to feel exciting, full of potential and opportunities you’d never previously have thought possible. Because the limits that come from that “it’s too late now” narrative and those lists of all the things you can’t do after a certain age just don’t apply any more.

When you remove that, you can start to see things very differently. Instead of shame, there is a feeling of being lucky - to be this age with this life and the opportunities that offers. And - without the pressure to do things in the same way as “everyone else” clouding your judgment - you are likely to realise how much choice you actually have. Whatever age you are.

Your age is the least interesting thing about you. And, unless you tie yourself up in it, the least relevant. Start a business, have a family, run a marathon, change careers - people do this at 25 or 52. You won’t know what’s actually possible for you until you try.

Start living shame-free

I just don't accept or believe ‘limits’ like age. This, and being able to show you how to start living shame-free, is one of the reasons people come to me as a coach. It’s my job to help you start championing yourself as you are right now, stop limiting yourself with generic milestones and replace the dread of getting older with feeling excited af about what's coming next.

This is called shame resilience and it’s something we can develop through nine resilience coaching sessions. Book a discovery call now to find out more about sessions starting in January or February 2024. 

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Life Coach Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Winchester, Hampshire, SO23
Written by Alex Pett
Winchester, Hampshire, SO23

Alex is an ICF trained and NLP cert coach focused on helping people to deepen their resources to adapt and bounce back - and go on to thrive. She works with resilience to help clients build confidence, recover from burnout, be assertive, set boundaries, find joy and move beyond limiting beliefs. Clients achieve tangible change in 6-9 sessions.

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