“Shame loves secrets. Shame cannot stand being spoken.” β€” Brene Brown

The shame of having herpes tends to pull us into our own scary shadows (even though just a few feet away in the light are plenty of people telling you to quit the negative fantasy BS and hear that you’re worthy of a deluge of love.) Shame has us stay blind in the darkness of our own self-defeating mind-cage to try to deal with it on our own (like any strong person should be able to do, right?). But that has us telling ourselves the (false) story that we are alone. We are not alone. YOU are NOT alone! Squash the story! The more you can really allow yourself to get that, the less shame you will have, the more likely you will be to reach out when you need it, the more love will be available to let in, the more healing and growth happens. The more you free yourself of stigmatizing labels, the more free you are to be YOU. And what’s more lovable than that? (Rhetorical question.)

β€œAn addict needs shame like a man dying of thirst needs saltwater.” (Terrence Real)

Brown (whose work also appears in this post) defines shame as “The intensely painful experience or belief that you’re flawed and unworthy of love and belonging.” And what better excuse to believe all those horrible things than herpes? Then somewhere along the line, some less-than-nice voice inside of us got the bright idea that if it shames us enough, we’ll somehow rewind time and be free of this virus. On some level, we believe that if we punish ourselves, the pain will go away. How ironic is that? Much of the pain is self-inflicted and in our own heads anyway. Why do we put ourselves through so much? What happens when we stop beating ourselves up?

How is shame like saltwater to the thirsty?
Brown says “A belief that we’re not worthy of love and belonging is what drives most of the destructive behavior we see.” So true. We seem to by default choose the stick to beat ourselves with instead of feeding ourselves a healthy carrot. We somehow think that if we heap on enough shame, that will make things better, but it’s not quenching our thirst for love. Shame is just making things worse. Like if someone dying of thirst assumes saltwater will quench the thirst; but instead, the saltwater only makes the thirst worse. So it’s not about avoiding the shame by trying to somehow prove our worthiness … You ARE worthy. Period. Know that. Own it. You wouldn’t be feeling so bad if a part of you didn’t already know that. Once you get that you are worthy of love, you will start treating yourself differently, which will pave the way for the love from others to come charging in.

We hear of the stigma of herpes and create a story about ourselves that doesn’t match with who we truly are. Are you stigmatizing yourself? Stop it! You don’t deserve it! Love yourself instead. Be compassionate with yourself instead. It will take you so much further.

Sounds great, but how the heck do I move past the shame?
Think about your healing process in stages of opening up yourself to more and more love and support. If shame is about closing down, self-love is about opening up. First thing I want you to notice: You’re here reading this article. That’s the first step. You’re reading this because you care about yourself enough to feel better and to stop the self-abuse. Good news!

Next steps:

  • Connect with people who care. Reach out more when you need it. And the reaching out doesn’t necessarily have to have the whole herpes label attached to it; maybe it’s simply going out to lunch with a friend to catch up. Connecting with loved ones is a great way to prove that you’re not alone. The herpes support forum is also a great place to start this process of reaching out to people who get what you’re going through.
  • In-Person Weekend Workshop. Get more information on the Herpes Opportunity Weekend Workshop offered a few times per year.
  • Get an (h) buddy! We also have a herpes buddy system (contact me directly for that) where we’ll match you up one-on-one with someone else who has herpes so you two can talk about whatever you’d like.
  • In-person herpes support groups. And there are plenty of in-person herpes support groups out there, too.

When it comes down to it, there are plenty of opportunities to let go of the shame and move into your life. You get to make the decision.