[Note: To be clear, this article is about your process in self-acceptance with herpes and in your relationship to yourself. If you’re looking for help with the physical part of dealing with herpes, check out these articles.]

The key to breaking the cycle of shame and loneliness that herpes seems to bring is to normalize herpes in your life. Herpes gets its power from the power of secrets and isolation. Normalizing herpes in your whole life starts with normalizing it inside your head first. Also, please read Herpes healing process: The 5 stages.

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First step: Educate yourself

Whether you educate yourself by googling, visiting a doctor you trust, finding a local herpes support group or hearing other people’s herpes stories, do it. Maybe find a few herpes veterans who can give you the real scoop on how little it affects their lives in the long run. It’ll help to see how it naturally goes from something earth-shattering to just another one of those somethings we all have to deal with in life. And just a word to the wise … take all herpes stories you read for what they are: people having their own personal experiences with a virus. Your experience of herpes and how it will affect your life is your own. Normalizing simply unveils herpes as a common, shared experience instead of making it a horrible unknown looming in your imagination. Making it real takes away the power of it being all in your head.

Next step: Be aware of your relationship to herpes

After you prove to yourself that you are absolutely not alone (over 25 million Americans might convince you of that), practice hearing your own inner thoughts and feelings about herpes. Yeah, that little voice in your head … Are you beating yourself up about herpes? Whenever you hear or read the word herpes, do you feel a pit in your stomach? Practice talking out loud about herpes, even if at the beginning it’s talking to yourself in front of a mirror. This practice of hearing your own inner voices and how they relate to herpes is invaluable to your healing and growth.

And to really get an A+, try keeping a journal on how you talk to yourself about herpes. If it’s anything other than supportive and loving, then that’s something to look at. And writing all of this down helps to get it out of your head and onto paper, which brings it closer to your awareness and takes away its power. By writing it down, it’ll be easier to spot next time it happens so you can catch yourself. Remember as much as you can to treat yourself like you would a best friend who is going through a difficult time. Be supportive and understanding. Stop judging yourself so damn much. After writing down the negative things you hear yourself saying, be sure to offer complementary kinder truths. For example: If you hear yourself saying “You’re disgusting and dirty. You’ll never find someone to love you” — catch it, write it in your journal. Then you can write immediately afterward, “Actually the truth is that I’m just as awesome and sexy as I have ever been. Nothing can change that.” It helps to be fair to yourself.

Finally: Talk with others

Shame is sneaky. It keeps us from talking about what we’re ashamed of. But check this out — talking about just those things is what let’s the shame attached to them go. Brené Brown in her research on shame says, it’s the fear of disconnection that fuels shame. She says shame is the question “Is there something about me that if other people know it or see it, that I won’t be worthy of connection?” We somehow believe that there are certain things that if people knew about, would cause them not to like us, much less love us. But that’s simply not true. Vulnerability is the opportunity for connection.

Slowly start talking with others about what you’re going through. Start with people who are very close to you. Tell them you need support and need them to listen; it might also help to let them know that you don’t expect them to give you answers. That you just need them to be there for you. Then you share yourself. You share your pain, your frustration, your sadness, your insecurity … And then a funny thing happens … they still support you … they still see you as the same person you were, with strength and courage and resilience … and most importantly they still love you.

Eventually you will get to the point where herpes simply becomes a minor inconvenience instead of a life-stopper. And then you can push further and recognize it to be an opportunity to be vulnerable, to show your humanity and give others the opportunity to share theirs. Because ultimately, that’s what it is. An opportunity. Trust me.

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